HORNING: For Sooner women, a program turnaround may be in progress

Kyle Phillips / The Transcript

OU's Shaina Pellington pushes down the court during the Sooners' game against UConn, Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018, at Lloyd Noble Center. The Sooners followed their near miss against the No. 1 Huskies with a 77-61 victory at SMU Saturday.

Shaina Pellington looked like a foundational piece of the Oklahoma women’s basketball program after winning Big 12 freshman of the year two seasons ago.

Monday, OU announced she will transfer.

The sophomore guard averaged 13 points this season, but didn’t appear in the last five games. The Sooners finished 8-22 after being eliminated in the Big 12 tournament’s first round last week by Texas Tech.

OU coach Sherri Coale has indicated Pellington’s play during practice, and select games, as the reason her playing time declined. Pellington served a one-game suspension February 2 for an undisclosed violation of team rules.

Asked before the Big 12 tournament if Pellington would play against Tech, Coale said: “Anybody who has earned the right to play in practice is going to play. I mean anybody. Clary Donica is a walk-on and she might earn some right to get on the floor.”

Coale was asked if Pellington’s recent practice performances had been consistently below average.

“For all players, the reason that they get to get into games and play is because they earn it in practice," Coale said. "When you do get an opportunity to get in a game and play, then what you do while you are there determines how much time you get in the future, if practice continues to be very good. That’s the case for everybody.

“When you go in, do you do more good things than bad things? Do you make more positive things happen for your team than negative things? Do you make the people around you better? Those are questions that we always ask of everyone, whether they are a starter or coming off the bench. That remains true across the board.”

It marks the second time in three years OU has dealt with a key departure. Following the 2016-17 season, guard Chelsea Dungee and center Nancy Mulkey both left the school. Dungee is averaging 20.2 points at Arkansas this season, while Mulkey averages 13.1 at Rice.

According to NCAA figures, Division I women’s basketball players transferred between four-year universities at a rate of 10.9 percent in 2017, a three percent rise from 2012.

OU lacked a proven post threat this season, and Pellington held a key role in the Sooners’ guard-heavy offense. The Ontario, Canada native scored season-highs of 33 (Nov. 9, WKU) and 25 points (Jan. 30, at Kansas).

Five games following her suspension, she scored 14 points in a home loss to Iowa State. Coale was asked if Pellington was starting to get over the hump.

“She had a better practice on Monday and Tuesday which is why she got in the game earlier. Still gotta play with people. We have to play with people, we have to play together,” Coale said.

OU returns all five starters next season.