NORMAN — The 17th-ranked Oklahoma women are at Texas for a 12:30 p.m. tip today at Frank Erwin Arena.
It is the Red River rivalry and has the makings of a fine game. The Longhorns, under first-year coach Karen Aston, were picked to finish fifth in the Big 12 Conference and the Sooners were chosen second.
OU has been ranked all season and the Longhorns have been ranked until the latest round of polls.
But if everything points toward a tight battle, one thing separates the two teams. The Sooners (11-2, 1-0 Big 12) are in clear ascension; meanwhile, the Longhorns (7-5, 0-1) are searching.
A loser of four of five games, Texas fell to Tennessee, before topping Cornell, before losing back-to-back to Iowa and Central Michigan at the Maggie Dixon Surf ‘n’ Slam Classic in San Diego, before opening conference play with a 73-65 overtime loss at Iowa State.
OU has won three straight games, the last one a very impressive 71-68 comeback over a strong West Virginia team, yet another program that’s spent most of the season ranked.
That doesn’t make OU a heavy favorite today. The road to the Big 12 regular season championship is paved in away-from-home victories precisely because they’re so hard to get.
On the other hand, the Sooners, for all their personnel losses and the adversity that has accompanied them, have emerged in a very good place.
It began after a 76-63 loss to Vanderbilt, the first game after Whitney Hand became the fourth Sooner to be lost for the season.
“In the game after Whitney got hurt, we didn’t give it our all and it was really personal for the ones that weren’t playing,” junior point guard Morgan Hook said. “I think it really hit home to all of us. I think we’ve learned a lot and I think that we realize that every game we need to go out and play like we have to play hard or we’re not going to win.”
OU has done that and hasn’t lost.
It began with a 70-46 victory over Cal-Riverside that was notable for many good stretches and continued with a 79-57 triumph over Cal State Northridge that wasn’t nearly so close.
Then came West Virginia, a team that offered a test very similar to the one UCLA administered Nov. 14, when the Bruins beat the Sooners 86-80. Against the Mountaineers, OU traded blows over the game’s first 30 minutes before prevailing down the stretch.
“I think it’s just how close our group is,” senior forward Joanna McFarland said. “With all the adversity we’ve had, we’ve had to really grow up fast.”
Players and coaches agree that their rise began with good practices, particularly over the holiday break.
“I think every individual really understands the importance of their immersion in the moment,” Sooner coach Sherri Coale said. “That sounds really simple, but it’s a hard thing to do.”
Not that OU can’t be a lot better. Friday, just before leaving for Austin, Coale said exactly that, but she also repeated something she said all the way back in the preseason.
“This group really has a high ceiling,” she said.
Lately, it’s playing like a team that might reach it.
Clay HorningFollow me @email@example.com