NORMAN — The Oklahoma women have four regular season games remaining and today’s a big one for many reasons.
One: if beating Bedlam rival and 23rd-ranked Oklahoma State (18-7, 7-7 Big 12) doesn’t figure to be easy, it still figures to be quite a bit easier than beating No. 1 Baylor on Monday night at Lloyd Noble Center, and the Sooners (19-7, 9-5) sure don’t need another two-game losing streak.
Two: OU’s in a three-way tie for second in the Big 12 conference with Iowa State and Texas Tech, though the Cyclones have the advantage with two wins over the Sooners. Whatever, OU wants the highest possible seed entering the Big 12 tournament and no loss is a good one.
Three: the Sooners are also jockeying for a favorable NCAA tournament appointment.
For all of those reasons, they could sure use another big game from Nicole Griffin.
The junior center has come of age this season in fits and starts. Indeed, it’s a startlingly clear pattern.
The first four games of the season, she averaged 13.5 points. The next four games of the season it was 8.3. The next five it was 13.2. The next six it was 8.5. And over the last seven, a run that’s ongoing, she has averaged 14.7 points.
If Griffin can keep from taking the step back she’s already taken twice this season, the Sooners are clearly a better team going forward. Further, there’s evidence Griffin isn’t simply back on her game, but that she’s playing a better one.
And, the Sooner Nation should love, her current run includes a career-high 21 points against Oklahoma State Feb. 10 at Lloyd Noble Center. It also includes 17 at Kansas on a day her teammates weren’t very good and 14, on 7-of-11 shooting, this past Wednesday night against Kansas State.
OU coach Sherri Coale and Griffin’s teammates believe her game has reached a new place. More than anything, perhaps, by her ability to relax and see what’s happening around her.
“Basketball is not a very complicated game. It’s a simple game, but it’s hard to teach that and it’s hard to learn that because so many things change so rapidly,” Coale said. “For Nicole, the thing I noticed (against Kansas State) was she would not only take advantage of the help defender, she was also making the right reads on her own defender instead of premeditating. Like. ‘When I catch this I’m going to drop step and score.’ “
As a result, Griffin scored, but not only off the drop step. As Coale said, she “finished with a jump hook, she finished getting all the way to the rim, she had a drop step and she had a turnaround jump shot.”
It’s an interesting dichotomy. Relaxing enough to have that awareness, Griffin has also displayed greater hunger for the ball.
“It’s (the post) demanding for the ball and that’s what Nicole has been doing such a good job at,” point guard Morgan Hook said. “She’ll call for it and she’ll show me where she needs it and if she’s ready for it, she’s going to catch it. If I know she’s calling for it then I know she’s confident enough with her position, so I just throw it to her.”
Griffin is also grabbing more rebounds, averaging 4.8 this season, 4.6 against the conference, but 6.7 over her last seven games.
At a time her team really needs her, it all seems to be coming together for her.
“I’m confident, yes … I have been doing a lot better being more patient, which is the key to me getting better,” Griffin said. “That’s my main focus and I’ve gotten a lot better at that.”
Should it continue today, the Sooners could be in a very good place.
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