By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — There were nothing but smiles at the Oklahoma women’s practice gym Thursday. It was the Sooners’ final practice before heading to the Final Four in San Antonio, Texas, as well as the last time they’ll be on the floor as a team.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do when our last game comes, even if it’s a win. I love all of them so much,” OU guard Nyeshia Stevenson said. “Not being able to play with them anymore is going to be incredibly sad and it will hurt. I’d like to cushion it with it being a win.”
That bond is the biggest reason the Sooners (27-10) have reached their second straight Final Four and third since 2002. It’s what’s allowed them to play their best basketball late in the year.
It’s something every team tries to achieve. The college basketball season is geared to reward those who hit their apex late in the season.
No matter how good a team is — even undefeated Connecticut — a lackluster performance in the NCAA Tournament usually means it’s going to be a loss and the season is over.
There’s no clear-cut reason for how OU has been able to hit its stride late in the season.
“It’s something you have to think about at the beginning of the season. You don’t want to peak too early and you don’t want to peak too late,” point guard Danielle Robinson said. “I guess we did it at the right time and we’re feeding off that.”
Stevenson has another theory.
“Typically, teams start to get tired of each other this team of year. We don’t because we have that much love for each other,” she said. “We know our strengths and weaknesses. We all embrace each other.”
OU coach Sherri Coale doesn’t exactly have a reason why it’s happened, but believes the adversity her team faced early in the year had something to do with it.
The early-season loss of guard Whitney Hand forced OU to face some obstacles other teams didn’t have to navigate.
“It retarded our growth enough that we were just able to kind of figure things out at the right time,” she said.
It had to be done. The Sooners aren’t the prototypical Final Four team. They don’t have a consensus All-American like Stacey Dales was in 2002 or Courtney Paris was last season.
It just has a bunch of good ones that have displayed a knack for winning throughout March. The Sooners don’t have a starter averaging more than 16.6 points a game, but they do have four starters averaging at least 10. Seven players average at least 15 minutes a game.
Add it up and it’s the classic case of a team’s sum equaling more than its parts.
“We just find ways to win,” forward Amanda Thompson said. “It’s not the prettiest and it’s not the cleanest. But we’ve been able to find our way through all the bumps and bruises. I think we found ourselves through all that.”
John Shinn 366-3536 email@example.com