Women's basketball: Injuries threaten what kind of season the Sooners can have
The OU women’s basketball team started the season as preseason No. 2 in the Big 12 and No. 12 in the nation.
OU touted a team whose marks were depth, promising newcomers and veteran leadership — most notably from senior guard Whitney Hand.
Cut to nine games later, the Sooners are 8-1 and have dropped just one spot to No. 13 in the Associated Press Poll.
But the team has been ravished by injury.
The second day of practice, sophomore forward Kaylon WIlliams went down for the season with a ruptured Achilles’ tendon, and senior forward Lindsey Cloman retired because of a nagging back injury.
Depth went from one of the Sooners’ strengths to one of their biggest questions — and it wasn’t done yet.
Freshman guard Maddie Manning worked her way into the starting lineup by game four and shined in her first three starts — averaging 11 points, five rebounds and 2 .7 assists per game in that stretch. The Sooners were adjusting to having four guards on the court, and it seemed like the team was on track.
But then Manning tore her ACL during practice, and OU was down to nine players.
The Sooners were officially a shallow team, but they still had veterans leading the way in junior guard Morgan Hook and Hand.
After two quick wins over Northwestern State and Marist, North Texas came to town, and the Sooners’ world was shattered.
Near the end of the first half against the Mean Green on Thursday, Hand went down clutching her knee. An MRI later confirmed she had a tear in the ACL of her left knee.
OU won the game against North Texas but lost its best player, and leader, in the process.
The Sooners are at an impasse for their season. They need to decide what kind of season they are going to have.
It’s a major uphill battle from now on for coach Sherri Coale’s squad.
OU is down to eight players on its active roster and still has the entire Big 12 schedule left — a conference that includes No. 3 Baylor, No. 12 Texas, No. 16 Oklahoma State, No. 17 Kansas and No. 22 Iowa State.
To beat UNT, several Sooners had to step up to replace different aspects of what is lost without Hand on the court. OU didn’t just lose her 12.1 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, but her leadership, hustle and other intangibles as well.
You saw it against North Texas: Hook picked up her leadership, senior forward Joanna McFarland picked up her rebounding — she ended with a team-high 11 boards — junior center Nicole Griffin picked up her scoring with 15 in the game and freshman guard Nicole Kornet had some key minutes off the bench.
The Sooners won the game because they played hard; they played for each other; and they played for Hand.
The Sooners will need to do all that and more to do anything the rest of the season.
OU may not be threatening to go undefeated anymore — it lost a game with Hand and Manning healthy — but is still has eight strong players and, if the Sooners can make up for even 80 percent of what Hand brought to the table, they should still be just fine.