By Clay Horning
The Norman Transcript
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Perhaps Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale wasn’t quite as right she thought she was. Or, maybe, her insights run deeper than anything statistical data might prove. Or, this time of year, her thinking it may simply make it so.
Asked a question mostly about Sooner center Nicole Griffin, she said a mouthful about guard Sharane Campbell.
“I think Sharane is our X-factor,” Coale said. “I mean, yes, Nic needs to score, needs to have her presence, needs to produce more than she produced yesterday, but I don’t know if we’ve lost a game this year when Sharane Campbell’s been good.”
Entering the second round of the NCAA tournament, where the Sooners meet UCLA at 6:15 p.m. today inside St. John Arena, it’s about as big a statement as you’ll hear a coach make about the difference one player can make.
Is Coale right?
Campbell, who moved into the starting lineup after Whitney Hand was lost for the season, is averaging 9.4 points and 4.3 rebounds.
She has scored 10 or more points in a game 14 times and OU’s 10-4 in those games, for a .714 winning percentage that’s only fractionally better than OU’s .697 overall winning percentage. On the other hand, when Campbell grabs six or more rebounds, the Sooners are 8-1, for a much better .889 winning percentage than their 23-10 record affords.
Is it all about the rebounds? Whatever, there are times this season Campbell’s clearly been an X-factor.
At Texas, on a day Morgan Hook and Aaryn Ellenberg combined for 35 points, the Sooners would not have won 78-70 without Campbell’s game-high 24. Against Oklahoma State, at Lloyd Noble Center, Campbell’s 15 points and 12 rebounds were the difference between a close game and the 80-61 laugher OU claimed. Saturday, without Campbell’s 15 points and seven rebounds, OU probably doesn’t beat Central Michigan.
Coach Hand: Whitney Hand hasn’t played since tearing the ACL in her left knee against North Texas Dec. 6, but she’s been another set of eyes from the bench while offering as much leadership as she can from a different perch. Saturday, after OU beat Central Michigan, she proved her sense of the truth and what needs to be said remains intact.
“We won because they didn’t shoot well,” Hand said. “If we give up 30 more shots than we take against UCLA, then we’re not going to win.”
The Chippewas shot 31 percent (26 of 84) from the floor. OU shot 47.2 percent (25 of 53) in its 78-73 victory.
That wasn’t Jo: Coale said nobody is better suited to play a physical team like UCLA than senior forward Joanna McFarland.
“If you want to play crazy stuff,” she said, “Jo’s your guy.”
The Sooners might take comfort in the knowledge McFarland had yet to find her game by Nov. 14, the day UCLA first beat OU 86-80.
McFarland played 17 minutes, grabbed six rebounds, did not score and committed four fouls. After the next game — a no-point, three-rebound performance against St. Louis — McFarland was dropped from the starting lineup. Since, she’s not only won her spot back, but has averaged a double-double: 10.3 points and 10.8 rebounds.
There’s precedent: If OU beats UCLA today it will earn its ninth trip into the Sweet 16, all of them coming since the 1999-2000.
Most of the time, OU has been favored to reach the second week of the NCAA tournament, but not every time.
OU’s first Sweet 16 required beating defending national champion Purdue on its home court, a shocker heard ‘round the women’s basketball world. Also, two years ago, as a No. 6 seed, OU wasn’t supposed to get through No. 3-seed Miami, yet beat the Hurricanes 88-83.
Creating a monster: If the Sooners beat the Bruins today, they will have slain a dragon they at least played a role in creating.
That was made clear when UCLA coach Cori Close talked about how huge her squad’s 86-80 Lloyd Noble Center victory was not even in retrospect, but in real time, too.
“It was a major turning point for us,” she said. “We had seven new players, it was a brand new year, we had not established our confidence at all, we were not in the top 25 … But I remember walking behind the players out to the bus and listing to their talk. I leaned over to one of my assistants and said, ‘This is a formidable day.”
Follow me @clayhorning
For local news and more, subscribe to The Norman Transcript Smart Edition, or our print edition.