OU women look to even score against Irish
BY LYNN JACOBSEN World Sports Writer
Sunday, March 28, 2010
3/28/10 at 9:16 AM
Related stories: OU Notebook: Familiar foes.
NCAA Women's Tournament Schedule.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It could be said at the beginning of the season that Oklahoma's identity was built, at least in part, around sophomore guard Whitney Hand.
So, when the Sooners lost the 2009 Big 12 Freshman of the Year to a season-ending knee injury in the fifth game of the 2009-10 campaign against San Diego State, it was understandable that the team would struggle.
They did, losing to Notre Dame 81-71 in the finals of the U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam the next day.
And while they won their next six games, the Sooners did struggle.
But as the season has progressed, players have figured out their roles and once again Oklahoma is back in the Sweet Sixteen for the fourth time in the past five years.
The Sooners also have the opportunity to avenge a pair of losses, the first being to two-seed Notre Dame (29-5). Three-seed Oklahoma (25-10) will face the Irish at 6:30 p.m. Sunday in an ESPN2 (Cox cable 26) broadcast from the Sprint Center.
"We're completely different," Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said when asked about the differences from that first game to today. "Every team progresses and changes throughout the course of a season (and) grows their own identity. Particularly, a team that changes personnel as emphatically as we did. Whitney and Danielle (Robinson) were our returning leaders, who had such experience in our Final Four run (a year ago).
"Whitney had become our heartbeat, she had become our identity. Even last year down the stretch in the NCAA Tournament, we played in her likeness as a team. We took on her personality and her demeanor. So, to lose her and have basically less than 24 hours to recover and play, I'm not sure we had any idea who we were when we played Notre Dame in the Virgin Islands."
In the first game, Oklahoma also was hurt by foul trouble from Robinson, who sat for three minutes after picking up her fourth foul with 10:19 to play in the game.
When she left, OU trailed 56-51, and by the time she returned at 7:26, the Sooners were down 64-51.
Still, Robinson had 26 points despite her team suffering through a scoring drought that lasted 6:43.
"I had no idea we did that," Coale said. "I'm not really surprised. I think we've done it since then, to tell you the truth. Again, the thing in the Virgin Islands that was so disruptive was for the past entire year our backcourt had been Whitney and Danielle with a mixture of different folks. But, Whitney and Danielle were almost always on the court. I can't think of a time when one of those guys weren't out there. We were just trying to figure out how to get from Point A to Point B."
The Irish were led by freshman Skylar Diggins, who had 16 points. Brittany Mallory led a 30-point bench effort, scoring 15 herself, and Ashley Barlow finished with 12.
Oklahoma countered with four players in double figures. In addition to Robinson's 26, Amanda Thompson had 12 while Carlee Roethlisberger and Abi Olajuwon scored 11 each. Roethlisberger and Olajuwon combined to go 8-of-20 from the field. Nyeshia Stevenson was 1-of-6 and finished with two points.
"To be honest, we played horrible," Robinson said. "We didn't have any kind of effort at all."
Said Thompson, "Like (Robinson) said earlier, we were in shock, and we didn't know how to make the adjustment so quickly. We've learned a lot since then, and we took a lot more pride in our effort and our toughness."
Vs. Notre Dame • 6:34 p.m.
Sunday • TV: ESPN2-26
Radio: KTBZ am1430
Lynn Jacobsen 581-8461
OU coach Sherri Coale has her team in the Sweet Sixteen for the fourth time in the past five seasons. STEPHEN PINGRY/Tulsa World