NORMAN — Oklahoma women’s basketball coach Sherri Coale has been at this thing going on 17 seasons. She’s been to 13 straight NCAA tournaments, taken the Sooners to a trio of Final Fours and reached the Sweet 16 eight different times.
Within the span have been two discernible and memorable eras.
There was the Stacey Dales Sooners, including teams that from 2000 to 2002 reached three straight Sweet 16s and a Final Four. There was the Courtney Paris era, from 2006 to 2009, that included one Final Four trip, one perfect march through the Big 12 conference season and postseason tournament and one national championship guarantee from Paris herself that came in a couple wins short.
The Sooners are in no particular era right now. Fifth-year senior shooting guard Whitney Hand may go down as the program’s most beloved player. She played a season with Paris and two-plus with All-American point guard Danielle Robinson. Still, the thought of past eras comes up for another reason.
Remove those two eras and there likely hasn’t been any season in which OU thought so highly of its possibilities.
The combination of it being Hand’s last go-round, of just about everybody who played a significant role last season coming back, and the addition of three newcomers expected to play and excel in major roles, has the Sooners thinking all things are possible.
A return to the Final Four?
A national championship?
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It all begins at 1:30 p.m. today at Creighton, where the Sooners open up against the team that took St. John’s to the wire at the NCAA tournament last season at Lloyd Noble Center two days before St. John’s ended OU’s season.
Openers can make for sluggish efforts, especially away from home against a team that could make its season by knocking off a team like OU. On the other hand, it’s a stiff early test that may demand the Sooners prove they are who they think they are, or something close to it, to return home with a victory.