NORMAN — The season has not gone the way the Oklahoma women might have thought it would go. Losers of six games, and already two in the Big 12 Conference, the Sooners has struggled.
The good news (or bad)?
If OU can win its next two games, not only is it right back in the race for the league crown, but it’s even a step ahead of everybody, save Baylor and Oklahoma State, two teams against which it has four games remaining.
Those next two games, however, are both on the road and the first is today, against West Virginia (15-2, 4-1), a team that should be ranked quite a bit higher than the No. 26 position it would hold if the Associated Press Top 25 were carried out to all vote-getters.
The Mountaineers have lost two games, opening day against Ohio State and Jan. 8 against Baylor, each of them endured on their home floor at WVU Coliseum. West Virginia also owns No. 11 Oklahoma State’s only loss, a 71-67 decision in Stillwater, as well as a stunning 73-59 victory over Iowa State at Hilton Coliseum only three days ago.
It was only Iowa State’s second loss, but might have been the Cyclones’ third if only OU could have held a last-minute lead Jan. 5 before falling in overtime.
And, from the it’s-funny-the-way-things-work-out file, after leaving Morgantown, W.V., the Sooners (11-6, 2-2) next find themselves in Ames, Iowa, finishing off their season series with the Cyclones at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Feeling the weight
Morgan Hook had not been struggling.
While her teammates struggled to find themselves, find consistency or get out of their own way, that had not been a problem for the senior point guard.
Though OU’s non-conference record was a disappointing 9-4, as the Sooners took home-court losses to No. 5 Louisville and No. 3 Duke and road losses at UCLA and Marist, Hook wasn’t.
In the non-conference schedule, she averaged 10.7 points and 6.3 assists against 2.6 turnovers for a very healthy 2.4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Even in the four losses Hook’s assist-to-turnovers total remained a fairly strong 27 to 17.
Then came the conference: victories over Texas Tech and Kansas State, overtime losses to both Iowa State and Texas.
In the last of the four, a lackluster 61-50 victory over Kansas State, Hook’s game nose-dived. She dished four assists against four turnovers, but did not score a point and fouled out. Additionally, though she’d averaged almost 15 points in OU’s first three conference games, her assists and turnovers since Big 12 play began are 12 and 16.
She hasn’t been herself.
Sooner coach Sherri Coale offered a very honest assessment after the Kansas State victory.
“She’s spending so much energy trying to get her team moving in the right direction and sometimes the cost of that is that it leaves her frazzled,” Coale said. “Whitney (Hand) sometimes felt that way. It’s a load to bear. Everybody can help her by not needing so much from her.”
Hook pleads guilty.
“These past few weeks, I’d say I’ve just struggled, mentally, just kind of being exhausted, because if something doesn’t go right for the team, that’s on me,” she said. “It’s completely my fault, and us not playing with energy and that kind of stuff comes from (failing) to be a leader.”
A year ago, it was different.
Even though Hand tore the ACL in her left knee early in the season, she was still around and her voice was still in the mix. There was also Joanna McFarland, who finally got completely out of her own way in time to play a fantastic high-energy and emotion-filled senior campaign. Leadership didn’t fall on anybody’s singular shoulders.
This season, even if Hook’s a reluctant leader, she’s still the Sooners’ best option as maestro and conductor.
“I don’t think I struggle with getting in somebody’s face. I think I’ve done that plenty of times in games,” she said. “But more just playing with emotion and passion, because that’s never really been my type of play. I’ve never really gotten out of my shell and been, like screaming and that kind of stuff, and that’s what she [Coale] is looking for right now, is that kind of stuff. Before … all of our seniors gave us that.”
After beating the Wildcats, Coale gave the team two days off, telling them to get away from the game and each other. Hook believes the break has led to some very good and fun practices since and feels she and the team are in better places than they were a week ago.
“We’ve had a couple of really fun days that really brought us back to why we play basketball,” she said.
But she could still use some help. Her teammates want to.
“Just take the little things off her,” center Nicole Griffin said. “Like talking (to each other); like, she calls a play, just get in our set … It’s just the little things. I mean, she does a lot.”
Hook’s suggestion is even simpler.
“It’s just energy,” she said. “We need to be excited we’re playing basketball.”
Continued big scoring from Aaryn Ellenberg probably wouldn’t hurt either. The senior shooting guard has knocked down 60 points her last two outings: 37 at Texas, 23 against Iowa State.
Still, the kinds of things that never show up in a boxscore might be most important of all.
“Keep her positive and kind of asking her, what does she need from us,” reserve post Kaylon Williams said. “I think we’ve been taking steps. We just need to put it all together.”
The kind of joy Hook described wanting her team to play with never hurts, but it can’t be confused with a lack of focus. The Mountaineers are really good and so are the Cyclones.
If OU even splits its next two games, it will have done something. If it can somehow win both, it will find itself in a very different place when TCU visits Jan. 25.
“We just have to take care of business and keep building,” Hook said.
The Sooners can start by taking care of business this afternoon. If they want to get where they want to be going, it has to start somewhere.
Follow me @clayhorning
Breaking news, severe weather alerts, AMBER alerts, sports scores from The Norman Transcript are available as text messages right to your phone or mobile device. You decide which type of alerts you want to receive. Find out more or to signup, click here.