The Norman Transcript

March 23, 2014

Fine line between Sooners’ best team, best effort

The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — It may only be a meaningless observation, and yet it’s so stunning.

Since coach Sherri Coale began taking the Oklahoma women to NCAA tournaments 15 years ago, perhaps no game looked more like the Sooners’ best game, through all the years, than the one it played Saturday afternoon at Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Coale’s best team put together a run to the 2002 national championship game and it got there by scoring 94 points against Colorado to reach the Final four and by scoring 86 points against Duke to reach the title game.

Twelve years later, this was Coale’s most challenged team, losing 104-100, its 15th loss of the season, to DePaul. 

It hit the century mark despite just 34 first-half points. It hit the century mark despite missing 19 of 33 3-point attempts. It hit the century mark without shooting 50 percent from the field.

It did it, somehow, by playing 20 minutes — 20 minutes that yielded 66 points — maybe better than any OU women’s team ever has.

How does a 15-loss team appear the equal of a team that went 32-4 and played for a national championship?

It’s a conundrum.

Clearly, this team never really found itself until it faced 20 desperate minutes on Coach K Court.

Coale issued a great postgame quote about her best player, Aaryn Ellenberg, the woman she calls “Vegas,” who finished with 36 points and four steals in her final collegiate game.

“I think it’s appropriate that Vegas’ last game in an Oklahoma uniform, she scores 36 and has key steals,” Coale said. “When you ask what fueled the ride, it was the (steals). She had two or three of them in a row that led to wide open layups and we … took the lead. 

“She just played really possessed offensively and she’s done that on occasion throughout her career, and when she does there’s not a whole lot you can do about it. It’s really fun to watch.”

Two of the most telling words to that quote are “on occasion” and Ellenberg is hardly the only one who has struggled to put her best self forward.

Kaylon Williams, who started in front of Nicole Griffin Saturday, offered her best game in months, finishing with 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting and nine rebounds, and boy could OU have used some games like that during the conference season. Instead, her highs among OU’s 18 league tilts were nine points (at Baylor) and seven rebounds (against Texas Tech).

Or Sharane Campbell, who was terrific Saturday, with 22 points and 10 rebounds. Only once in conference play (against Oklahoma State) did she score more and only once all season (against Kansas State) did she match her board total.

Saturday’s biggest regret among the stalwarts that stuck with this team through more highs than lows should be the 3-of-13 shooting, 11-point and five-turnover day of point guard Morgan Hook.

Hook was the biggest reason OU ever even won 18 games this season. Without her, the Sooners lose more than they win and aren’t even in the WNIT.

Just a bad game at the wrong time. 

It happens.

You wonder where Coale’s Sooners go from here.

Next season they’ll have a new point guard and a new leading scorer and both may be Maddie Manning, even on two reconstructed ACLs, and if it happens like that you then have to wonder just how many wins there might be.

Or, Campbell can become the player she’s been every once in a while most of the time, Williams can discover even the slightest consistency, Gioya Carter can begin to earn those Stacey Dales’ comparisons, Derica Wyatt can become a certified gunner and, just like that, OU can be the surprise team in the conference for a second straight season, only this time in a good way.

At the very least the Sooners will have a lesson to learn from, that you have to be your very best selves for more than 20 minutes a game (or a season) if you want to accomplish anything.

Because OU put on an incredible show Saturday afternoon. Too bad it had to close the same day it opened.

Clay Horning

Follow me @clayhorning

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