Resilient Sooners embrace changes
BY GUERIN EMIG World Sports Writer
Sunday, March 21, 2010
3/21/10 at 6:42 AM
Related story: OU Women's Notebook: Just like the Cyclones.
NORMAN — Courtney Paris rehabbed a knee injury in the Lloyd Noble Center trainers room Saturday, anticipating a return to pro ball. Down the ramp and out on the court, the Oklahoma Sooners carried on without her.
The team whooped and hollered through an hour-long practice, clearly hyped for Sunday's 8:30 p.m. NCAA Tournament opener against South Dakota State.
OU is the No. 3 seed in the Kansas City region and a prohibitive favorite against the 14th-seeded Jackrabbits. The Sooners say they love their tournament draw, love that they are opening on their home floor, and love that they have been battle-prepped by Big 12 opponents and nonconference foes like Connecticut and Tennessee.
"We're kind of chomping at the bit," senior forward Amanda Thompson said.
Interesting. A year ago, the Sooners graduated Paris, the most decorated player in program history, and her twin sister, Ashley. Four months ago, they lost Whitney Hand, the 2008-09 Big 12 Freshman of the Year, to a season-ending knee injury.
The mood could have easily been dark around Lloyd Noble.
"The past couple years, we always had the target on our back. Everybody expected us to win, win and win. This year, there was a different approach to it," Thompson said "I felt like we had something to prove. When you go out there to prove something, to prove somebody wrong, that's fun to me."
So the Sooners start the 2010 tournament less stressed and yet more determined than they were during Paris Era postseasons. Their coach has had a lot to do with that.
"She gave us a challenge," Thompson said of Sherri Coale. "It was up to us to have a good season or a bad season."
But then, it took players to meet that challenge.
"That's what's so special about (Coale). She doesn't baby you. She lets you figure it out," said point guard Danielle Robison. "She can't come out on the floor and play. It's up to us. After the Texas game at home (OU's 75-57 turning-point loss Feb. 3), we took it upon ourselves to work things out."
"Work" is right. You could see it on the covers of the white binders the Sooners dropped on the floor before hitting the practice court Saturday — "You gotta FIGHT for your right..." on the front and "...to PARTY" on the back.
"I think we've really restored the identity that we had built early on, in terms of the way we compete and the way we play together and the grit and the heart and all that stuff," Coale said Saturday. "I'm incredibly proud."
It has allowed the Sooners to overcome the loss of some pretty important players in the past year, and the idea that some pretty lofty standards should be lowered.
Some consider OU's season an overachievement and Coale's best coaching job. All the Sooners know as they get set for South Dakota State is that they're having a blast.
"We've really come together this year. We've worked for everything we've gotten, and we've proven people wrong thus far. It's exciting," Robinson said. "It's fun to do that, especially when nobody has you doing anything all year."
(14) S.D. State at (3) OU
8:30 p.m. Sunday
Lloyd Noble Center, Norman
Radio: KTBZ am1430
Guerin Emig 581-8355
Coach Sherri Coale and the OU women face South Dakota State at 8:30 p.m. Sunday. Alonzo Adams/AP