NORMAN — Entering the season, the Oklahoma women looked forward to having everybody who contributed last season, aside from Jelena Cerina, coming back.
Then there were three newcomers, all of which were expected to contribute, plus Jasmine Hartman and Lyndsey Cloman, two players who had previously been big parts of coach Sherri Coale’s rotation, but who missed last season after ACL tears forced season-ending knee surgery for both of them.
Injury has since robbed them of sophomore post Kaylon Williams (Achilles), a half-time starter last season, and sophomore point guard Maddie Manning (ACL), who went down three games after entering the starting lineup. Also, a chronically bad back ended Cloman’s collegiate career before the season even began.
Yet, for all of that, the Sooners have been surging ever since taking an 86-80 homecourt loss to UCLA Nov. 14.
Certainly, it isn’t the toughest schedule the Sooners have ever played. However, OU has still beaten St. Louis, Arkansas, Oregon, Hawaii, Northwestern State and North Texas by an average score of 79.8-50.5.
“I think what it says, more than anything, is that it’s a reflection of our growth,” Coale said. “Early on, we would play a good half and a bad half, or a ‘wow’ 10 minutes and then a ridiculous 10 minutes. There have just been longer stretches of really solid play.”
At 7 tonight, OU (7-1) will try making it a seven-game win streak against North Texas (2-5, 1-0 Sun Belt) before taking 10 days off the game court to wrap up the academic semester.
After that, it’s Vanderbilt, a team that began the season in the top 25 but has fallen out after losses to Dayton, Virginia and Florida State. Win that game and the Sooners stand a very good chance to be 11-1 entering the conference season Jan. 2 at home against West Virginia.
They’ll likely get there if they can keep doing what they’ve been doing.
“Kids have to understand that they don’t suddenly have to become something they’re not. Nobody has to become Maddie Manning, just like nobody had to become (Kaylon) Williams,” Coale said. “But everybody has to be just a little bit better version of themselves.”
When Manning was elevated into the starter’s role, Joanna McFarland, who had been struggling, was moved to the bench. When Manning was lost for the season, freshman Nicole Kornet took her spot in the starting five. But if that’s bothering McFarland, she isn’t showing it, averaging almost nine rebounds and six points a game in her new role. Also, pressed into more action, Hartman has become a bigger and more effective part of the rotation.
Only nine available players can make practice a real drag, but as senior captain and shooting guard Whitney Hand points out, the Sooners aren’t really shorthanded.
“We have nine people who can play. That’s still a really deep team,” she said. “If you play nine people every game, that’s still a deep roster … I wouldn’t say our ceiling’s any lower.”
OU hasn’t played like it.
Instead, the Sooners have built on success. Tonight presents another chance.
Clay HorningFollow me @firstname.lastname@example.org