NORMAN – Two schools of thought.
One, anything good for your rival can’t be good for you. Rooting for your conference or your state may be nice in theory, but sports are a zero-sum game. Rooting for your rival is insane.
Two, we’re all in this together. The better the teams, the better the rivalry, the better it is for the fans and the better it is for this sport. Yes, only one team may win, but the greater good is the greater good, for everybody.
On that note, welcome to Bedlam women’s basketball, where No. 22 Oklahoma State visits No. 23 Oklahoma at 4 p.m. today at Lloyd Noble Center.
A one-sided rivalry for a long time, the Sooners (17-5, 7-3 Big 12) have beaten the Cowgirls (16-5, 5-5) in 26 of 28 meetings. But under the late Kurt Budke and Budke’s top assistant and successor Jim Littell, OSU is approaching its fifth 20-win season in seven years and arrives in Norman ranked one spot in front of the Sooners and of its starting five, only Toni Young is a senior.
Good for Bedlam – sure. Good for the Sooners – good question.
OU coach Sherri Coale has remained consistent over the years. If she doesn’t root for her rival, she nonetheless appreciates the Cowgirls’ ascension without reservation and loves competing in a conference of heavyweights.
“Any time our league is strong, it helps us all. As the water rises, so do the boats,” she said. “I know there’s a lot of interest in this game on Sunday because it’s Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State, but also because it’s two very good teams fighting in the upper echelon in conference play.”
If only Coale’s players were equally charitable.
Junior point guard Morgan Hook said the rivalry may not be as heated as Bedlam football but, “We’ve had some issues in the past that have made the rivalry spark up.”
Last season in Stillwater, now-senior forward Joanna McFarland’s jaw was broken by a wild Cowgirl elbow. That, “and a bunch of other little things,” Hook said, have the Sooners wanting to blow the Cowgirls off the court rather “than it being just like any other game.”
Besides, there are conference finishes hanging in the balance.
“We want them to lose so we can continue to be in second place,” Hook said. “I don’t think we want them to go on winning.”
Coale has been close to OSU’s coaches.
“Kurt and I developed a fun friendship because of the way he was. We both loved Bedlam because it got people in Oklahoma really fired up about women’s basketball,” she said. “It gave us an opportunity to really enjoy the intensity of a rivalry in maybe a way it hadn’t been up to that point.”
Coale has known Littell for a very long time, sending Andrea Crooks and Angel Salazar from Norman High School to play for him at Seward County (Kan.) Community College. Also, after Coale took over at OU, Littell sent Jamie Talbert from Seward County to Norman.
There are no such ties between the players.
McFarland is tempted by one school of thought, but seems to fall toward the other.
“I’m really not a big fan of OSU,” she said. “It’s good that there’s heightened interest in the state when we’re both ranked, like football. When OSU and OU are both really good it’s a more intense and fun game. I guess it’s the same here, but I think we want to beat them really, really bad.”
It shouldn’t be easy.
Coale was quick to praise her opponent.
“Toni Young is a crazy athlete, Liz Donahoe is a crazy scorer, Brittney Martin is probably on track to become rookie of the year in the league, Tiffany Bias is maybe the fastest point guard in the league.”
Seems like a good game, even if nobody wants it to be.
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