By Clay Horning
NORMAN — The Oklahoma women are two days away from their first test since Whitney Hand tore the ACL in her left knee.
Vanderbilt, a team that began the season in the AP Top 25, but that has since fallen out after losses to three good teams (No. 17 Dayton, Florida State, Virginia) visits Lloyd Noble Center at 2 p.m. Sunday.
They’re also eight days removed from losing senior guard Whitney Hand, who may not have been named to the preseason All-Big 12 first team, but who everybody familiar with the program understood to be the Sooners’ most irreplaceable player.
Hand tore the ACL in her left knee with 1:58 remaining in the first half of OU’s 71-68 victory over North Texas. Losing her knocked the active roster down to eight able-bodied players under coach Sherri Coale’s direction.
How’s everybody handling it?
Coale’s repeated that nobody has to make up for anybody’s absence completely, but simply has to be two- or three-percent better than before.
Hand, still a fixture at practice, is seeing positive signs of that philosophy being put into practice.
“It’s been an adjustment, but I’ve seen Morgan (Hook) become more of a leader than she’s been in her whole time here. I’ve seen Nicole Griffin say more words than I think she’s said in her whole time here,” she said. “I see Aaryn (Ellenberg) really making an effort to do everything right.
“You can tell, people are trying.”
Hook is OU’s junior point guard, Griffin is the Sooner center and Ellenberg is the shooting guard who leads the team at 15.8 points per game.
Things will have to come together pretty fast, although the schedule does happen to set up well for OU.
After Vanderbilt, it’s two more home games before conference play also begins, also at home. Additionally, there is time between games to continue the adjustment.
The Sooners face Cal-Riverside on Dec. 20 and Cal State-Northridge on Dec. 29. Then it’s No. 25 West Virginia to open Big 12 competition Jan. 2.
Explaining what OU most has to make up for in Hand’s absence, Coale said a mouthful in just a few words.
“She’s their leader, their voice of experience, their heart and soul and their energy,” she said.
Still, Coale believes she has players who can begin to fill those intangible voids.
“I think it has to be more than one … We have some experience,” said Coale, who proceeded to tick off her seniors, post Joanna McFarland and reserve guard Jasmine Hartman, as well as Hook, Griffin and Ellenberg, each a junior with a great deal of playing experience.
“Everyone is capable,” Coale said. “Now that (Hand) can’t do it, it’s going to take them a while to learn how to use those skills. But they have them, they’re there. They just haven’t been called upon in this manner.”
The Sooners know they don’t have time to feel sorry for themselves. Also, they believe they can still be a part of something special.
“It makes us want to play harder and it makes us want to be part of that story that’s told at the end of the year,” Hook said, “about how we had to fight because we lost four of our players.”
Should they court success, it would be indeed be quite the story. Most of all, perhaps, because it won’t be easy.