NORMAN — They say the truth will set you free. Sooner forward Joanna McFarland is testament to the adage.
A returning starter entering her senior year, she was sent to the bench after three lackluster games to begin the season in which she totaled six points, 12 rebounds, 10 fouls and one assist.
In her next five games, coming off the bench, she totaled 29 points, 43 rebounds, 13 fouls and seven assists.
Then Whitney Hand lost her season to a torn ACL in the first half against North Texas. In that game and the next three, in which McFarland returned to the starting lineup, she totaled 35 points, 44 rebounds, 11 fouls and six assists.
Sometimes it takes the truth revealing itself in simple terms. In the first place, McFarland wasn’t playing up to expectation. Dealt a consequence, she realized her role in clearer terms and responded. When Hand exited, leaving just eight healthy bodies on the roster and McFarland the only senior among them, the terms and stakes became more stark and more clear.
“I think I just didn’t know my role. We had all these new players, I was trying to figure out where I fit in,” said McFarland, who has emerged as a leader just in time for Big 12 conference play, which begins at 7 tonight inside Lloyd Noble Center, where OU meets West Virginia. “Now, it’s very apparent. We need every single person right now, we need their ‘A’ game, and I guess that just made it easier.”
A consistent contributor since arriving on campus from Derby, Kan., McFarland has averaged 3.8, 5.3 and 5.4 points, and 3.8, 6.6 and 5.9 rebounds her previous three seasons.
Within those seasons, she has enjoyed spells of expanded production. Still, lately, there appears to be a clarity of purpose not present in the past. Others have seen it.
“I think she’s gotten over herself,” Hand said. “Sometimes you’re paralyzed with fear, and Jo and I have both had that problem … But she’s playing for something bigger than herself right now and it’s really obvious. She’s kind of let go of all of her fears and she’s just playing.”
In the past, McFarland has been prone to overthinking her role and next move. But in her team’s time of need, she has played untethered basketball.
“She’s one of the most competitive kids I’ve ever met. In anything, she wants to win,” Sooner coach Sherri Coale said. “If she makes a 99 on a test, she’s irritated because she should have made 100. And this situation is just kind of built for her. She understands what she has to do and how many people are counting on her.”
Even fans are noticing.
In OU’s last game, a 79-57 victory over Cal-State Northridge, McFarland was limited by foul trouble, but still scored nine points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Also, she ended a 2-of-16 streak from beyond the arc by hitting 2 of 3 3-pointers, a skill in which she’s proven adept in the past. Yet it was the opening moments, when she controlled the offensive glass, that left the biggest impression.
“A fan came up to me,” McFarland said, “and said ‘Thank you for playing so hard.’”
It’s not lost on her teammates, either.
“She set the tone,” Hand said, “and everybody followed that.”
Keeping it going, or bringing yet more, won’t be easy against stiff conference competition. Whatever, McFarland knows her assignment.
“It’s my last chance and we don’t have very many players,” she said. “It’s all or nothing right now.”
Clay HorningFollow me @firstname.lastname@example.org