NORMAN — Sherri Coale has tried about everything.
The Oklahoma women’s basketball coach has adjusted her starting lineup, played with her rotation and player groupings, has hunkered down in practice and, over the course of each game, has tried to pull all the right strings. Thus far, however, it has not worked as she thought or hoped it would work.
The Sooners are 8-4, with two of the losses at UCLA and Marist, teams with a combined record of 13-10, each one counting OU as its lone victory over a ranked team.
Along the way, OU has been a poor shooting team, has received inconsistent play from its only All-American candidate — shooting guard Aaryn Ellenberg — while struggling to make its free throws and get off to good starts.
Yet, while Coale has tried plenty, she has not tried everything. Only now, she’s ready to call upon a little more from Sherri Coale.
To hear the coach explain it, part of what plagues the Sooners is saying goodbye to Whitney Hand. Last year’s fifth-year senior and longtime team leader has joined husband and former Sooner quarterback Landry Jones in Pittsburgh.
“They’re trying to hear who they are without her there,” Coale said of the players Hand left behind, a list that includes everybody in Coale's regular rotation but freshmen starter Gioya Carter and reserve T’Ona Edwards. “And part of them being able to hear who they are is me being quiet, and I have to pace how long I can do that.”
Now, apparently, is a time to quit pacing and start acting.
“I think we’re at a point where they need a little bit more from me, and I can give them a little bit more,” Coale said. “I can give them whatever they need, and I think they’ll take a hold of it.
“Sometimes you just have to go through some stuff to be willing to be led in that direction.”
Which leads to today.
At 2 p.m., Samford (3-8) tips off with the Sooners inside Lloyd Noble Center. It is OU’s final non-conference game this season. On the night the football Sooners meet Alabama inside the Superdome in New Orleans, the Sooner women will be opening the Big 12 Conference race against Texas Tech inside United Spirit Arena in Lubbock.
“It’s really like you start all over again,” Coale said. “Here’s your exhibition, although it counts, and then we jump right into the real thing, which is the conference race.”
How Coale plans, exactly, to increase her presence and influence isn’t exactly known. It may all be in the delivery.
“There’s no doubt that this is a pivotal time for our team and as the leader of the group,” Coale said, “I have to do a better job of directing our identity and not allowing us to be half of one thing and half of another.”
Under Coale, it has been OU’s way to eventually find itself and eventually surpass expectation. The Sooners’ last run to the Final Four, in 2010, was like that. The same could be said of 2011 and 2013 runs to the Sweet 16.
Here they go again?
“I think we’ll get there,” Coale said. “Just not as quickly as we hoped.”
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