NORMAN — The 11th-ranked Oklahoma women don’t exactly know how big a test UCLA will be when they tip off their home opener at 7 tonight at Lloyd Noble Center.
The Bruins are unranked, yet receiving votes in both polls. Also, they’re an unknown quantity.
Forward Markel Walker played 19 games last season before missing the rest of the campaign to injury. Forward Jasmine Dixon missed all of last season to a ruptured Achilles tendon, the same injury that has cost OU post Kaylon Williams this season. And forward Alyssia Brewer, an Oklahoma native, sat out all of last season after transferring from Tennessee.
Also, Walker, Brewer and Dixon are all seniors, as are the Bruins’ other two starters, guard Thea Lemberger and forward Markel Walker.
So there’s plenty of experience on the opposite bench tonight, even if UCLA’s starting five don’t have a lot of experience playing together.
Then there’s this:
Oklahoma’s schedule is not quite so difficult as past seasons. If the Sooners want to impress a college basketball public, not to mention themselves, before Big 12 conference play begins, tonight offers a real opportunity.
“I think it is one of those (games),” center Nicole Griffin said. “We just need to play the best we can and keep improving so that when we play those really good teams that we need to beat, we know what we can do.”
Winning by 21 points on the road at Creighton, a program that will likely return to March Madness this season, was a terrific start. After tonight, the next headliner is No. 13 Vanderbilt, which visits Norman on Dec. 16.
Coach Sherri Coale knows how tough the Bruins might be but prefers to think of every game as an equal opportunity.
“When we go out and compete, we either put another layer of foundation in that thing we started last weekend,” she said, “or we take some bricks away. There’s no such thing as staying the same.”
Senior guard and team captain Whitney Hand understands UCLA may offer a unique opportunity.
“Big-name schools are always fun to beat,” she said. “It gives you an opportunity to set a standard and make a statement.”
It would seem so, for the unranked Bruins may be very undervalued.
In getting Walker (6-1), Dixon (6-3) and Brewer (6-3) on the floor, UCLA has an abundance of size. Also, Walker led the Pac-12 with 11 rebounds per game before getting hurt last season, Dixon was an honorable mention All-American and a first-team all-conference performer two seasons ago, and Brewer, a Sapulpa grad, averaged 6.9 points and 4.6 rebounds in three seasons on some terrific Tennessee teams.
“I know they’re very capable players. I think what UCLA is going through right now is figuring out their own identity with all these new parts,” Coale said. “Down the stretch, that’s just going to get better and better and better for them. It’s probably fortunate for us to get them while they’re still trying to figure things out.”
Might as well make the most of it.
Clay HorningFollow me @firstname.lastname@example.org