NORMAN — The now completely unranked Oklahoma women find themselves in, perhaps, their most important week of practice of the season.
Not a part of the media-voted Associated Press Top 25, nor the USA Today coaches poll, the Sooners (11-6, 2-2 Big 12) last played Saturday, picking up a lackluster 61-50 victory over Kansas State (6-9, 0-4), and do not play again until 1 p.m. Saturday, when they meet West Virginia in Morgantown.
The Mountaineers (14-2, 3-1) are not ranked in either poll, yet probably should be. No. 26 if the AP Top 25 were carried out to additional vote-getters, and No. 27 if the coaches poll were carried out, West Virginia has lost only to Ohio State on opening day and to No. 7 Baylor. Along the way, the Mountaineers have posted a 71-67 victory at No. 11 Oklahoma State.
After traveling to Morgantown, the most open days the Sooners will have between games the rest of the season is five, between meeting Baylor Feb. 3 in Norman and traveling to Kansas Feb. 9.
What makes this week such an important week of practice is two-fold. One, as a team struggling to find itself, the Sooners have been given the gift of time. Two, even if the Sooners weren’t struggling, the strength of their next two opponents calls for maximum preparation. After West Virginia, OU’s at No. 13 Iowa State, which beat the Sooners in overtime Jan. 5 at Lloyd Noble Center.
And, in almost alarming fashion, Sooner coach Sherri Coale, following OU’s victory over Kansas State, made it clear what part of this week of practice would be about:
“It doesn’t matter the situation, it doesn’t matter if you’ve won 12 in a row, it doesn’t matter if you’ve been picked to finish first or if you’re picked to finish last,” Coale said. “That is non-negotiable, for a champion, or, for my belief, for anyone who puts on an Oklahoma jersey.”
Against Kansas State, OU appeared unable to get out of its own way. And, for a change, the struggles of the team finally seemed to find their way to senior point guard Morgan Hook, who scored no points, committed four turnovers against four assists and collected one rebound before fouling out.
But the issues went beyond Hook.
“We were antsy on the perimeter, trying not to make a turnover and trying to get rid of it instead of being confident and convicted about every pass that we make and every drive that we make and every shot that we take,” Coale said.
When not making a mistake becomes your objective, exerting maximum energy can be impossible, as negative mental energy puts the breaks on positive physical energy.
“It’s just bringing more energy and playing with passion, just playing hard,” junior forward Sharane Campbell said, “spreading it throughout the whole team.”
The last thing Coale said before leaving the postgame media session was her strongest statement on the topic.
“That’s something that we’ve been addressing and we will continue to address,” she said. “I’ve got to find five guys that will take the floor and will play with an Oklahoma energy.”
If Coale gets that energy, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the Sooners will right their course. Of course, if she doesn’t get it, there may be no way they can in what is, once again, a very difficult Big 12 conference path.
Already the losers of six games and two in the conference, OU needs to put some wins together, even as its schedule becomes tougher. At the very least, energy can’t be a problem.
Follow me @clayhorning
Breaking news, severe weather alerts, AMBER alerts, sports scores from The Norman Transcript are available as text messages right to your phone or mobile device. You decide which type of alerts you want to receive. Find out more or to signup, click here.