MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

OU

December 28, 2012

OU women prep for conference opener

— NORMAN – For those who figured they’d have to wait for conference play to watch some good basketball, Cal State Northridge might beg to differ.

The Matadors are inside Lloyd Noble Center at 1 p.m. today to meet the 18th-ranked Oklahoma women.

Playing their third game since senior team captain Whitney Hand’s collegiate career was cut short by another ACL tear, it is the Sooners’ last warm-up for the conference season, which begins Jan. 2 at home against West Virginia.

As it happens, Northridge just shocked the team that handed OU its first loss, back when the Sooners were ranked No. 11, when they still had the services of both Hand and freshman guard Maddie Manning, who is also out for the season with a torn ACL.

The Matadors (6-4) took down UCLA 77-72 Dec. 21 on the Bruins’ home court at Pauley Pavilion.

The Sooners could really use a win heading into conference play. Final result aside, they could really use a game that further propels the growth that must take place if they are to challenge in a conference race that includes two games each against No. 3 Baylor, No. 14 Oklahoma State, No. 20 Texas, No. 22 Kansas, not to mention West Virginia, which just dropped out of the poll.

“We’re on an ascension,” Sooner coach Sherri Coale said. “We’re not there yet but we’re moving in the right direction. Our guys are looking more and more comfortable.”

Just this week, the Sooners are getting comfortable with two new teammates, forward Tara Dunn and guard Eden Williams, who were recruited off the Sooner volleyball team to get the able-bodied and injury-besieged roster number from eight to 10 players.

“We’re still on the same track,” guard and leading scorer Aaryn Ellenberg said. “We still have the same goals, as far as playing and doing things the right way … It’s not like anybody has to do anything crazy. We’re all good enough players to go and do what we do.”

It helps to be coming off a win.

The night Hand was hurt, OU had to rally to beat North Texas by three points. A loss to Vanderbilt followed. But Dec. 20, the Sooners were much better in a 70-46 victory over Cal-Riverside.

“We had some really good offensive possessions, as crisp and sharp as we’ve been all year,” Coale said. “Defensively, we adhered to the game plan and really focused on what we needed to take away from them. We made them look worse than they are, for sure.”

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