By Clay Horning
CNHI News Service
NORMAN – Everybody might have thought they understood just how important Whitney Hand was to Oklahoma women’s basketball. Now, perhaps, they understand it even better.
Playing without her for the first time since the senior guard and captain tore the ACL in her left knee, the 12th-ranked Sooners were a shell of themselves in a Sunday afternoon 76-63 loss to Vanderbilt.
“Everybody was tentative,” OU coach Sherri Coale said.
As her roster has been beset by injury, going from 12 able-bodied players to eight, Coale’s request has been that each of her players simply be a little better.
However, Sunday few players raised their game. The only one to clearly do it was Joanna McFarland who survived first-half foul trouble to finish with a game-high 11 rebounds and nine points.
“I was just trying to play hard for my team,” McFarland said. “We have four people who can’t play (Hand, Kaylon Williams, Maddie Manning, Lyndsey Cloman), so every minute you’re on the court, your representing them. I went through some of that last year with my injury, so I know what it’s like. To not play your heart out is disrespectful.”
Point guard Morgan Hook touched on the same theme.
“I think that some of us went out there and didn’t play as hard as we could,” she said. “The No. 1 thing we said to each other was go out there and play hard and the game will come to us.”
If only it was that easy because OU did little right.
The Sooners’ 37.5 field-goal percentage (21 of 56) amounted to their second-worst outing of the season. OU’s 15 first-half turnovers had them playing catch-up over the game’s final 36 minutes while 13 Commodore offensive rebounds that led to 17 second-chance points managed to put the breaks on every Sooner rally.
Coale didn’t like much of what she saw but understood it in the wake of Hand’s absence.
“It’s a reflection of just being caught up in the emotion of it and trying to fight your way out of it and trying to find your role,” she said. “And that will get better. That will get a lot better.”
Aaryn Ellenberg led the Sooners with 21 points on 8 of 15 shooting though they seemed to come quietly, including nine in the last 4:50 when Vanderbilt’s slimmest lead was still nine points.
The Commodores were led by Christina Foggie’s 17 points and 16 each from Tiffany Clarke and Jasmine Lister. They shot 43.1 percent (28 of 65) but a cool 55.6 percent from 3-point land.
“We were trying to get back in a zone and just standing there and letting them throw the ball to the wing and the kid shot it,” Coale said of Vanderbilt’s early 3-point barrage. “We weren’t even attempting to guard them.”
OU got within six points, 41-35, with 16:44 remaining. The Commodores responded with a an 11-2 run.
It wasn’t close again.