November was a tough month for the Oklahoma women’s basketball team.
It began with forward Lyndsey Cloman ending her career because of back problems. Before turning the calendar page, forward Kaylon Williams and guard Maddie Manning suffered season-ending injuries. After starting three games during a tournament in Hawaii, Manning suffered a torn anterior cruciate knee ligament in practice.
As if that litany of injuries wasn’t enough, along came December. And down went Whitney Hand. Again.
The All-Big 12 guard, who had suffered a torn right ACL during the 2009-10 season, suffered a tear of the left ACL in Dec. 6 game against North Texas.
After the game, North Texas coach Mike Petersen said; “I just feel for that kid. If young adult adoption was legal, her last name would be Petersen, trust me.”
Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale understood the sentiment.
“She’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of kid,” Coale said this week. “You feel (the loss) on every perceivable level. It’s one of the most difficult injuries I’ve had to get to the other side of.”
The other side for the Sooners has extended deep into March and an NCAA tournament date with No. 2 seed Tennessee (26-7) in the semifinals of the Oklahoma City regional. The teams play at 4:30 p.m. Sunday (TV: ESPN2) at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Top-seed Baylor (34-1) and No. 5 Louisville (26-8) play in the second game of the doubleheader.
The winners meet at 9 p.m. Tuesday for a date in the Final Four.
No. 6 Oklahoma (20-14) advanced by beating No. 3 UCLA 85-72 on Monday night in Columbus, Ohio. The Sooners were outrebounded 50-37. They allowed 36 paint points. Their reserves were outscored 15-6. And they still prevailed.
The game reflected the nature of their season.
“(Hand’s injury) was one where you could’ve just thrown in the towel,” Coale said. “Or you could do the really hard thing and figure out how you’re going on.”
Junior guard Aaryn Ellenberg, another All-Big 12 first-team honoree, has led the way, averaging 18.9 points per game. She’s scored 113 of the team’s 267 3-pointers. She had six treys against UCLA.
Tennessee guard Meighan Simmons is familiar with Ellenberg and her importance to Oklahoma’s success. Simmons described her as “the head of the snake.”
“That’s a great analogy,” UT coach Holly Warlick. “She’s playing very well right now.”
Against UCLA, forward Joanna McFarland grabbed 16 rebounds, one short of her career high. She’s recorded double-figure rebounds in 21 of her last 25 games.
Guard Sharane Campbell scored 19 points, shooting 6-for-8 from the floor.
Center Nicole Griffin, meanwhile, contributed two blocks. The 6-foot-6 junior has 16 in her last six games.
“That’s a great program,” UT assistant Kyra Elzy said. “Coach Coale does a great job. Her kids are very skilled. They play extremely hard. People have stepped up for them.”