NORMAN — After No. 2 Duke had finished beating the Oklahoma women 94-85, Sooner coach Sherri Coale lamented that her team didn’t prove to be as mature or seasoned as it should be or needed to be.
Everything went wrong the final 10 minutes of the first half, when a one-point Duke lead became a 46-27 halftime advantage.
“We kicked it off our foot, we threw it directly to them, we sailed it out of bounds,” Coale said. “It was just contagious and that’s when you need the leaders to step in and calm the waters and want the ball … I really thought so many things in that period stem from nobody wanting to score but Vegas. She was the only one shooting the basketball and the only one trying to do anything with it.”
“Vegas,” is Aaryn Ellenberg, who attended high school at Las Vegas Bishop Gorman, and while she may have been the only willing Sooner as Duke began to pull away, she was not very effective, finishing the first half 2 of 7 from the field and 1 of 6 from 3-point land, scoring seven points and committing five turnovers.
At the half, OU had dished only two assists against 15 turnovers. That was a far cry front he second half numbers, when the Sooners outscored the Blue Devils 58-48, dished 10 assists and committed a reasonable six additional turnovers.
Hook, who played a great game but for those 10 bad minutes, finishing with 24 points on 8-of-9 shooting, was under the incorrect assumption that she, too, had committed five first-half turnovers when she had actually committed three. Still, the point she made during the Sooners’ post game session with the media carried no less weight.
“Aaryn and I both had five turnovers at halftime. As two leaders and seniors on the team, that cannot happen. We were the ones that turned it over, that bounced it off our foot and gave it to them and threw it out of bounds,” she said. “It is our responsibility to be the leaders and calm the storm, and as the point guard I did not do a good job in the first half of that at all.”
So OU played 10 bad minutes. Monday, that meant dropping from No. 17 to No. 20 in the Associated Press Top 25. At 6-3, they are the only three-loss team still being ranked in the poll.
With no top 25 games remaining on their non-conference schedule, OU would appear to be in position to string four wins together against Maryland-Eastern Shore, Fairfield, Marist and Samford before opening Big 12 Conference play at Texas Tech on Jan. 2, tipping off at 6:30 p.m., one hour before OU and Alabama kick off at the Sugar Bowl.
Still, to really get their season headed back the right direction, the Sooners may have to do something about some issues that continue to crop up.
· 3-point shooting: Often, coaches will address the vagaries of shooting accuracy by saying something about how shooting will take care of itself or how sometimes they go in and sometimes they don’t. But the Sooner women are supposed to be a good 3-point shooting team and right now they clearly aren’t.
For the season, opponents are actually outshooting OU from beyond the 3-point arc, hitting 30.6 percent, while OU hits 29.6 percent, way off of last season’s 36.6 percent rate. Also, Ellenberg, the program’s all-time 3-point leader, has been way off all season, making 35.6 percent, well off her her 42.4 percent clip from last season.
· Rebounding: It wasn’t a huge issue against Duke Sunday when the Blue Devils led OU on the boards 31-29 and 11-10 on the offensive glass, but it remain a common denominator in all three of OU’s losses (Louisville outrebounded OU 50-40; UCLA outrebounded OU 50-29). Yet, the bigger issue has been giving up offensive rebounds. UCLA grabbed 20, Louisville 13, Stetson 17, Wichita State 15, Gonzaga 19 and Creighton 15. A good team simply cannot give up offensive rebounds like that
· Kaylon Williams: First, the reserve post was the most productive Sooner on the floor as long as she could keep herself on the floor, but foul trouble kept taking her off the floor.
That’s changed over the last three games — Creighton, Western Illinois, Duke — as Williams has committed only five collective fouls. However, her effectiveness has waned simultaneously. In those games, Williams has averaged 5.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 18 minutes of court time. Prior to those three games, she was averaging 12 points and 5.5 rebounds in 14.5 minutes.
The Sooners need her to maintain her productivity as she learns not to commit fouls.
· Free-throw shooting: It wasn’t an issue against Duke, as the Sooners hit 22 of 26, but it has been many times this season. As a team, OU is hitting 73.1 percent of its foul shots, very nearly what it shot last season (73.5 percent), though neither figure is what the team is after.
The Sooners hit hit 34 of 49 against Gonzaga when 40 of 49 would have made for a 10-point rather than a four-point victory. They hit 11 of 21 against UT-Arlington, 20 of 30 against Creighton and 11 of 18 against Western Illinois. Repeat those figures in a very competitive game and it could be the difference between victory and defeat.
One other issue reared itself against Duke on Sunday.
OU missed easy shots, which led to a loss of confidence and soon enough to the awful 10 minutes in which the game was lost.
“The troubling thing is that you don’t get int the gym and work on that. They can make them with their eyes closed,” Coale said. “It becomes a mental toughness thing. It’s a demeanor. It’s a mindset. That’s something that a kid has to do. It’s a switch they have to flip.”
The same sentiment might go for many of the issues facing the Sooners. Flip enough switches and it can still be a very big season.
Follow me @clayhorning
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