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March 31, 2013

Injuries only strengthened Sooner's resolve

Oklahoma takes on Tennessee in Sweet 16 in OKC

OKLAHOMA CITY — Dec. 6 is not a day Oklahoma likes to remember. That was the day Whitney Hand, the team’s leader, on and off the court, tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee, bringing an end to her collegiate basketball career.

Many counted the Sooners out.

“Everybody was just devastated,” junior center Nicole Griffin said. “How is this happening to, out of all people, Whitney? She has been through so much already and she’s the leader of our team. She is the one that carries us. How are we going to go on without her?

“It was all these thoughts that go through your mind. It was really crazy.”

OU didn’t crumble or go into the tank. It survived and went on to a third-place finish in the Big 12 and earned its 14th straight berth into the NCAA tournament.

“Everyone has just stepped up and risen to the occasion,” Hand said. “That’s the great thing about humans. The resiliency. Until you are really put in that position, you can’t really (reach) your full potential. It’s been really cool to see all the girls grow and reach that potential they have.”

The No. 6-seed Sooners (24-10, 11-7 Big 12), back in the Sweet 16, face off against No. 2-seed Tennessee (26-7, 14-2 SEC) at 3:35 p.m. today at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

“We talk about what an accomplishment this is to be here. We let it sort of sink in,” OU coach Sherri Coale said. “We digested it, then we said, ‘OK, that was fun, now we have work ahead of us.’ Just getting here is not enough.”

Sooner players have missed a collective 121 games to injury this season. Hand was the fourth player to go down.

Before the regular season began, sophomore post Kaylon Williams suffered an Achilles tendon rupture and senior post Lyndsey Cloman was forced out by a degenerative disc in her back. Also, freshman guard Maddie Manning tore the ACL in her right knee in practice Nov. 28.

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