, Muskogee, OK


March 14, 2012

OU women look for consistency

NORMAN — At different times this season, the Oklahoma women have shot well and shot poorly.

They have been responsible with the ball, and they have been plagued by turnovers.

They have been alert and focused defensively, and they have failed to be the same.

They have received big games from their bench and their freshmen, and they have received almost nothing from their bench and their freshmen.

They have come out with passion and ferocity, and they have come out flat as a pancake. And they have played with passion and ferocity for about 40 minutes in a couple of games, yet less, to varying degrees, in the rest of their games.

The idea, beginning around 6:30 p.m. Sunday, when OU (20-12, 11-7 Big 12), the No. 6-seed in the NCAA tournament’s Fresno Regional, meets No. 11-seed Michigan (20-11, 8-8 Big 10), is for all of it to come together.

But it has to start somewhere. The game at large often flows from a specific place. Where is that place for the Sooners?

“When our top three guards are really playing well, and by that I mean valuing the basketball and making shots and staying in the game — Morgan (Hand), Vegas (Aaryn Ellenberg) and Whitney (Hand) —we’re really hard to beat,” coach Sherri Coale said.

Between them, that backcourt trio is averaging almost 40 points a game, but in OU’s two finest conference performances — an 80-51 victory over Iowa State and a 64-55 victory over Texas A&M — it scored 46 points in each. Also, against A&M, Hand grabbed seven rebounds and Hook dished five assists without a turnover. And, against Iowa State, Hand grabbed eight rebounds and dished five assists, while Ellenberg hit 4 of 7 3-pointers.

The trio led.

It is OU’s best ticket, according to its coach. But not necessarily according to the members of that trio.

“Right now, we’re stressing defense,” Hand said. “You’re going to shoot how you’re going to shoot, you can’t really control it. So, our philosophy at the moment is tough defense and rebounds.”

That makes sense. Who hasn’t heard that defense wins championships?

In those same two games, Iowa State shot 35.3 percent and A&M shot 28.6 percent. Additionally, OU outrebounded the Cyclones by seven and the Aggies by nine.

Still, Hook answered differently than both Coale and Hand.

“It’s been the same story the whole year,” she said. “If we play hard, we win. But for some reason, we pick our games to play hard. We have to play hard every game.”

The Sooners’ inconsistency of effort has been apparent.

Hook suffered a letdown after the A&M game, getting in first-half foul trouble three consecutive games. The whole team came out flat and stayed flat until the final minutes in an 83-77 loss to Kansas. Two of their uninspired games came against Missouri. The Sooners won each by three points against the Big 12’s last-place team.

OU has been very good, too.

Where does it begin?

“So much of it boils down to how well you do what you do,” Coale said. “What’s your signature? How do you win games and how well can you impose that will on the game?”

OU may still be figuring that out.

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