It’s been some time since Oklahoma women’s basketball has claimed a conference title, and this year’s squad is fully aware of it.
Last year’s senior class never could steal a conference crown from the four-time defending Big 12 champion Baylor Bears. However, this group is focused on the present.
OU will need to overcome losing three of its top four scorers from the 2013-14 season. Plus, they’ll need to find a way to win on the road and find leaders within the young squad.
Oklahoma will try to combat its recent struggles with some familiar faces and a handful of new players ready to make their mark. However, a few questions must be answered for OU women’s basketball.
Who will replace last season’s scoring production?
The Sooners found little problem scoring a year ago. OU boasted the second-best numbers in total offense in the Big 12 during conference play. But it won’t be easy replacing graduated starters Aaryn Ellenberg, Nicole Griffin and Morgan Hook.
“I think you always have to have three you can count on to get double figures every night,” coach Sherri Coale said. “We look at this squad and think Sharane [Campbell-Olds] and [Kaylon Williams] are going to do that no matter what.”
Coale is unsure who her third scorer might be, but OU has a few potential options.
If Oklahoma’s preseason intra-squad scrimmage was any indication of what’s to come, Texas A&M transfer Peyton Little might provide that extra spark.
“I think you’ll see [Little] shine when we’re all on one squad together,” Coale said. “She’s ready to play with Oklahoma against everybody. You could see she’s a gifted scorer, and there’s lot of things she can do. She’s going to help us a lot.”
Little put on a three-point clinic for the fans in attendance Oct. 30. However, senior guard Sherane Campbell-Olds is enjoying an OU team she feels has plenty of weapons on offense.
“It’s great having multiple people to score,” Campbell-Olds said. “Just knowing I don’t I have to be that person all the time, I can just keep doing what I’m doing."
How will OU win away from Norman?
The 2013-14 Sooners won 14 of their 19 home games, but they only won four of their 14 contests on the road or at a neutral site.
Oklahoma has worked to alleviate this problem over the offseason and prepare itself for an uphill battle in the Big 12 Conference.
“Every season is a new season in itself,” Coale said. “We began in the spring working really hard on fundamentals and toughness. We had a great summer. I’ve learned about our team, and I think they’ve learned a lot about each other.”
OU’s offense looked balanced Thursday with an ability to create shots from anywhere on the court. Ball movement seems to be a major theme in the Sooners’ game plan.
“We want our offense to have a cadence,” Coale said. “It should have a pop to it. That means that the ball doesn’t stay in any one place for longer than three seconds.”
If Oklahoma can bring its “cadence” and aggressiveness on offense to places outside of Lloyd Noble Center, the Sooners may be able to sneak in to the Big 12 title picture.
Who will lead this young Sooners team?
Oklahoma will be forced to involve younger players in its rotation this season.
OU only has two seniors and two juniors on its 15-player roster, which doesn’t leave the team with many options for veteran leadership.
Campbell-Olds has 57 career starts and the most playing experience on this 2014-15 squad. However, she’s not finding her role to be any more difficult.
“It’s not as hard as I thought it’d be,” Campbell-Olds said. “I owe that to my teammates. They make it really easy to lead, and all of them are stepping up to a role.”
Junior guard Nicole Kornet has also seen a lot of playing time in her career. Her three-point shooting percentage from last year is the best of any returnee, and she’s taken a liking to her upperclassman status.
“I enjoy it. All that little stuff you worried about as a freshman is gone,” Kornet said. “Fundamentals become a part of you. You can just play your game.”
Maddie Manning, a 6-foot-2-inch sophomore guard, and 6-foot-4-inch freshman center Vionise Pierre-Louis looked like they were just playing “their game” last Thursday.
Those two looked the most impressive among OU’s fresher faces, but the squad will enjoy plenty of freshmen and sophomores who could vie for minutes this season.
The team will benefit from a long-tenured coach like Coale, who is entering her 19th season with the program. Coale has taken the Sooners to 15 straight NCAA Tournament appearances and has earned four Big 12 Coach of the Year awards.
“She works so hard,” Kornet said. “She’s like a second mom to us. She doesn’t just care about what happens on the court. She really wants us to be better people.”
The Sooners open their season on Nov. 14 and begin conference play on Jan. 4. The team will play an exhibition game at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Lloyd Noble Center against Southeastern Oklahoma State.