NORMAN — When the Oklahoma women tip off with Kansas State tonight at Bramlage Coliseum, they’ll be hoping to play their third straight game in which they bring 40 minutes of high energy. Also, they’ll be trying to win their third straight game.
Funny how things work.
Also, should they get what they’re looking for, they’re likely to get yet another big game from senior shooting guard Aaryn Ellenberg, who has raised her points-per-game average from 17.6 to 19.7 in the space of five games; no easy thing to do when the first of those five was still the 15th game of the season.
Further, if Ellenberg has another big night, it likely also means another strong night from her teammates, who have spurred Ellenberg’s recent vault by initiating an important Q and A with their leading scorer.
“We asked her, ‘What do you need from us?’” senior point guard Morgan Hook said. “And she just hadn’t ever said it. And now, it’s a relief and she’s just playing free. She’s not worrying about forcing stuff and trying to be the only person who can do it for us.”
Ellenberg is famous for her reserved, quiet and almost withdrawn personality. Telling her teammates what she needed probably wasn’t easy.
What did she say?
“She just kind of talked to the team about ways we can help her, by being confident with the ball in our hands,” Hook said. “(Lately), we’ve all wanted to score with the ball in our hand. Every single person on the floor has looked to score and it just makes it easier for her because everybody has to be guarded … they can’t go double Aaryn.”
Basically, Ellenberg told her teammates to go play their game, allowing her to get back to playing hers.
How’s it worked?
Ellenberg believes the tide began turning at Texas, where OU gave up a halftime lead before losing in overtime. That afternoon, she knocked down a career-high 37 points. Then it was 23 against Kansas State, 28 at West Virginia, 22 at Iowa State — the win the Sooners believe turned around their season — and 19 against TCU.
Even OU coach Sherri Coale, when asked after practice Tuesday what’s gotten into Ellenberg, answered by explaining what’s gotten into everybody else.
“The other people on the floor are being more accountable as scorers and that keeps five guys from staring at Vegas (Ellenberg) when she has the ball,” Coale said. “So I think it begins with other players being more aggressive.”
Better news for Sooner fans, Coale sees no reason why Ellenberg’s pace should slow down the rest of the season. She only sees reasons why it might quicken.
“Nothing she’s doing right now is otherworldly,” Coale said. “It’s not like she’s just suddenly becoming this scoring goddess. I still think she’s missing shots that she could and will make.”
In her last five games, Ellenberg has made 45.7 percent (42 of 92) of her shots and 42.6 percent of her 3-point attempts. An example of her struggles prior to the last five games, her season percentages are still just 41.7 percent and 38 percent from 3-point land.
What she still hasn’t done is catch fire. But she may be getting closer to that, too.
“It’s just kind of relaxed her,” Hook said of every Sooner’s added aggressiveness. “Her shots are more in rhythm and she’s not really forcing them.”
Ellenberg, as is her way, didn’t have a whole lot to say about her changing fortune. And, when she did, attributed her success to others.
“I think it’s more them than it really is me,” she said. “Because when the attention’s not always focused on me, I get a little more space to do things.”
Space, apparently, to look more like Aaryn Ellenberg; also, for the team around her to become a better and improving version of itself.
“It’s just,” Hook said, “kind of been a chain reaction.”
Follow me @clayhorning
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