CNHI News Service
If beating Bedlam rival and 23rd-ranked Oklahoma State doesn’t figure to be easy for Oklahoma, it still figures to be quite a bit easier than beating No. 1 Baylor on Monday night at Lloyd Noble Center.
The Sooners (19-7, 9-5) sure don’t need another two-game losing streak with a loss to the Cowgirls (18-7, 7-7 Big 12). OU in a three-way tie for second in the Big 12 conference with Iowa State and Texas Tech, though the Cyclones have the advantage with two wins over the Sooners. Both teams need the highest possible seed entering the Big 12 tournament and no loss is a good one.
The Sooners could use another big game from junior center Nicole Griffin.
The first four games of the season, she averaged 13.5 points. The next four games of the season it was 8.3. The next five it was 13.2. The next six it was 8.5. And over the last seven, a run that’s ongoing, she has averaged 14.7 points.
If Griffin can keep from taking the step back she’s already taken twice this season, the Sooners are clearly a better team going forward. Further, there’s evidence Griffin isn’t simply back on her game, but that she’s playing a better one.
Her current run includes a career-high 21 points against Oklahoma State Feb. 10 at Lloyd Noble Center. It also includes 17 at Kansas on a day her teammates weren’t very good and 14, on 7-of-11 shooting, this past Wednesday night against Kansas State.
“We got bullied down there and we didn’t fight back,” Oklahoma State coach Jim Littell said. “We have to fight back, we have to be physical and we have to be smart about where we let Griffin and (Joanna) McFarland catch the basketball. ... We just have to play with more of an aggressive attitude and more physicality.”
OU coach Sherri Coale and Griffin’s teammates believe her game has reached a new place. More than anything, perhaps, by her ability to relax and see what’s happening around her.
“Basketball is not a very complicated game. It’s a simple game, but it’s hard to teach that and it’s hard to learn that because so many things change so rapidly,” Coale said. “For Nicole, the thing I noticed (against Kansas State) was she would not only take advantage of the help defender, she was also making the right reads on her own defender instead of premeditating. Like. ‘When I catch this I’m going to drop step and score.’”
As a result, Griffin scored, but not only off the drop step. As Coale said, she “finished with a jump hook, she finished getting all the way to the rim, she had a drop step and she had a turnaround jump shot.”
It’s an interesting dichotomy. Relaxing enough to have that awareness, Griffin has also displayed greater hunger for the ball.
“It’s (the post) demanding for the ball and that’s what Nicole has been doing such a good job at,” point guard Morgan Hook said. “She’ll call for it and she’ll show me where she needs it and if she’s ready for it, she’s going to catch it. If I know she’s calling for it then I know she’s confident enough with her position, so I just throw it to her.”
The loser of Bedlam is likely on the outside of the NCAA Tournament looking in, adding even higher stakes to Saturday’s game.
“We put ourselves in a bad situation,” Littell said. “I think the bottom line is that you have to get to nine wins and when you’re playing on your home court you need to get one there for sure. We’ve been in a must-win situation for probably two or three weeks now.”