Whitney Hand leading Sooners despite knee pain
BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Writer
Friday, March 25, 2011
3/25/11 at 6:23 AM
DAYTON, Ohio - Whitney Hand's surgically repaired right knee is in so much pain, she missed practice again Thursday. She couldn't even participate in the pregame shoot-around on Tuesday against Miami.
And yet, Hand scored a career-high 24 points in Oklahoma's first-round NCAA Tournament victory over James Madison, and then topped that with 27 against the Hurricanes on Tuesday.
"She, I think, is able to anesthetize herself, I guess is the word, enough mentally where she gets immersed in the competition," said OU coach Sherri Coale. "I just think she loses herself in it a little bit."
The 6-seed Sooners might need that kind of gutsy contribution from Hand again on Saturday when OU (23-11) meets second-seeded Notre Dame (28-7) in a Sweet Sixteen matchup inside University of Dayton Arena at approximately 1:30 p.m.
Hand, a third-year sophomore from Fort Worth, averaged 9.8 points per game this season before the NCAA Tournament.
"I wasn't producing at all during the regular season," she said.
Now, her scoring average is up to 12.8, Hand said she's merely the benefactor of non-Big 12 Conference teams perhaps over-planning for guards Danielle Robinson and Aaryn Ellenberg.
"I just feel like our team is in such good rhythm," she said, "it's like everything I'm getting is out of rhythm."
Hand sat out most of last season after tearing ligaments in her knee. She missed the first 12 games of this season because of microfractures that had developed after surgery. The pain has never truly subsided.
"Yeah, we all know she's hurting, and none of us will ever understand the pain she feels every time she jumps or takes a shot or grabs a rebound," Robinson said. "But I think she does a great job of blocking that out because of all the adrenaline that's going on and how much she's focusing on other people. And when you focus on other people, a lot of that internal stuff and personal stuff goes away."
In two games in Charlottesville, Va., Hand made 17-of-29 field goals, including 5-of-12 shots from 3-point range. In the tournament, she's averaging 25.5 points per game.
"I'm not doing anything outstanding," Hand said. "It's like, layups, you know? My teammates are doing such a great job. I'm not crediting myself at all."
But Hand isn't just scoring and hitting her shots. She's diving on the floor for loose balls, sliding over to take charges and scooting around box-outs to grab offensive rebounds - all with severe pain in her knee.
Hours prior to OU's 88-83 second-round win over Miami, Hand couldn't even step on the court for the routine shoot-around. Her coaches and teammates wondered if this was the game where the pain finally forced her out.
Instead, Hand received a toradol injection - she described it as "kind of like an extreme ibuprofen that goes straight to the area" - and had the best game of her life.
"The medicine helps," she said.
"I knew," said Robinson, "when game time rolled around that nothing was gonna stop her."
Said Coale, "I don't think that it hurts (at tip-off) maybe a whole lot less than it does at other times, it's just that she's able to pull that curtain that the great, great athletes are often able to do and put it aside and play."
There isn't an official diagnosis yet. Hand doesn't want one. She said she'll have an MRI exam after the season to determine what's causing the pain. Coale said "she might have tweaked it along the way" and said it could be anything from tears in the meniscus to cartilage that never healed after surgery to severe inflammation from the microfractures to something else.
And it isn't one of those injuries where she can't make it worse by playing on it. She can.
"Um, actually that's been the fear all year, you know, that I'll rip off more of that cartilage," Hand said. "It's just kind of the price you pay, I think."
Hand finished Tuesday's game on the bench not because of her knee, but because she twisted her left ankle trying to play defense (Hand said it's fine now). She limped to the sideline, sat down, then quickly stood up and told Coale, "I'm ready to go in." Coale shook her head and gently guided Hand back to her seat.
"It's hysterical on TV," Coale said. "She just has the face of a 4-year-old getting sent to their room when I say no."
NCAA Sweet Sixteen
Vs. Notre Dame
1:30 p.m. Saturday
Radio: KTBZ am1430
Original Print Headline: Hand leads Sooners despite knee pain
John E. Hoover 918-581-8384