NORMAN, Okla. — Once again, Oklahoma women’s basketball frustrates. Also, for the first time in three seasons and one of the few times over the last 18, it threatens to keep the Sooners out of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1999.
Tonight, in Brookings, S.D., OU faces South Dakota State, a program that has been to seven of the last nine NCAA tournaments and that enters 6-2, the two losses coming to Green Bay, one of the nation’s best mid-majors, and fourth-ranked Louisville by only four points.
Also, if the Sooners even slightly resemble the team that lost their last game to Florida 80-61, or the one before at Little Rock 68-56, they will not win tonight. And, should that happen, they may not win again soon.
They’re 3-4 now with their next three games following tonight home-court tilts against against No. 16 South Florida (7-1) and New Mexico (9-0) and an away contest at No. 1 Connecticut (7-0).
In 2014-15, OU was 5-5 before running off eight straight wins, seven in the conference, on the way to a 13-5 Big 12 mark. But this team seems a long way from that.
OU scored 96 points to top Belmont opening day, scored 108 in an overtime loss at DePaul , knocked down 87 in a 12-point win over SMU and rolled over Colorado State 78-46 in Ft. Collins. Since, its lost by 18, 12 and 19 points to Oregon, Little Rock and Florida. Against the Gators, they were stuck on 40 points after three quarters.
Coach Sherri Coale confessed it to be the worst a team of hers had played in 15 years and, additionally, it hadn't turned in a good practice in more than a week.
It is also part of a pattern.
A year ago, OU inexplicably lost at Oral Roberts, the year before it was a home-court loss to North Texas, the year before that a loss at Little Rock, the year before that a loss at Marist, the year before that a home-court loss to Vanderbilt and the year before that a road loss at Fresno State.
Those are games the program should not be losing. Though those teams rebounded, they still lost precious time just getting back to even.
In 2010, OU fell in the non-conference to Georgia, Notre Dame and Tennessee. Those are losses that make teams better,. Of course, those Sooners came on late to reach the Final Four.
Scoring 40 points through three quarters against a mediocre Florida team on your home court doesn’t make anybody better.
In addition to apologizing to fans, administration, even the media that covered last Sunday’s loss to the Gators, Coale insisted there’s a good team in there somewhere.
“What we have to remember is that we were a pretty good basketball team about 10 days ago,” she said. “It’s not that everything is broken and everything is wrong and nobody knows what they’re doing.”
It only looked like it.
Coale talked about a leader having to emerge in the aftermath of last season and she talked about it again after the Florida loss.
With senior center Vionise Pierre-Louis going for 24, 25 and 32 points against Belmont, DePaul and Oregon; and graduate guard Maddie Manning going for 20 and 18 against DePaul and SMU; and freshman Shaina Pellington going for 23 and 22 against DePaul and Florida; and senior shooting guard Gabbi Ortiz going for 20 and 18 against SMU and Colorado State, it would appear OU has players capable of leading on the court, of getting a basket when a basket must be gotten.
Yet more is needed, beginning with an energy transfusion, one that might have to start on the Sooner bench before it reaches the court.
Nobody can remember Coale ever taking a technical foul, ditto for her assistants. Consistently, over recent seasons, the most demonstrative person on the Sooner bench has been senior reserve guard Gileysa Penzo.
Fans don’t fill the arena like they once did, but even a small crowd can help turn a tide if the athletes on the floor gives it something to grab hold of.
Perhaps the Sooners can cancel a coming practice and instead spend a couple hours watching highlights of then-senior center Joanna McFarland from the 2012-13 season.
Eventually given back her starting job after Manning suffered her first season-ending knee injury six games into the season, McFarland left everything on the floor. Those who watched it remember well.
Against a capable opponent, probably in front of a rowdy and hostile crowd, in conditions that can make a fragile team fold, maybe the Sooners can not worry about winning or losing, nor succumb to the self-fulfilling fear of failure that has gotten in the way too often before.
It’s the only choice and they have no more games to waste to make it.
Horning is sports editor of The Norman Transcript.