Blake Griffin and his Oklahoma teammates have been the talk of college basketball over the last few weeks. And for good reason.
Griffin’s sparkling performance has made him the odds-on favorite to win player of the year award, and the Sooners have matured into one of the most impressive teams in the country, putting together winning streaks of 12 and 13 games this season while advancing to as high as No. 2 in the national polls.
With March Madness just around the corner, coach Jeff Capel’s crew has positioned itself for a run at not only the Big 12 crown, but possibly a national title.
Thanks to all of the noise Griffin and his mates have been making, the OU women have flown a little under the radar for much of the season.
Truth is, Sherri Coale’s Sooners have been equally impressive on their run to the No. 2 spot in the country, winning a school-record 20 straight games behind a more balanced overall attack that has been solid at both ends of the floor all season.
Besides getting the usual big numbers from three-time All-American Courtney Paris, the Sooners have shed their “one-woman team” tag with a season-long performance that has consistently included big efforts from a superb supporting cast that is no longer just a supporting cast.
Ashley Paris, Courtney’s twin sister, dropped her weight during the offseason and then raised her game to a whole new level just in time for her senior campaign. Through 26 games, she was nearly averaging a double-double with 13.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per game.
She’s become much more than just the “other Paris sister” these days. But the improvements don’t stop there.
The main guard rotation of Danielle Robinson, Nyeshia Stevenson and Whitney Hand is among the best, if not the best, in the Big 12. Three different players, three unique sets of talents. And each of the three is playing like there is no tomorrow, despite the fact all three are underclassman.
Robinson is third in the league in assists and first in steals. Stevenson has hit 44.9 percent of her 3-point attempts to lead all Big 12 shooters. Hand is fourth at 39 percent, giving the Sooners a much-needed boost from the perimeter.
In fact, the two elements that held the Sooners back the past two seasons ” perimeter shooting and defensive consistency ” have been strengths this year. While Coale’s crew ranks only 8th in league scoring ” allowing 61 points a contest ” it is among the league’s best in field goal percentage allowed (36.9) and overall rebounding margin (+12 per game). Plus, OU is averaging more than two fewer turnovers a game.
A record crowd of 12,906 showed up at the Lloyd Noble Center to see the Sooners get a victory against fifth-ranked Baylor over the weekend.
That win moved OU to within a win of clinching the Big 12 regular-season title (going into Monday night’s game at Texas A&M).
Amanda Thompson finished with 15 rebounds in the win over Baylor, prompting Lady Bears coach Kim Mulkey to say, “Amanda Thompson’s rebounding was the difference in the game.”
Carlee Roethlisberger, Jenny Vining and Jasmine Hartman have also provided quality minutes off the bench, giving the Sooners more depth than they’ve had in recent seasons.
That’s the way it’s been all season for Coale’s squad: a different star stepping up every night. And while Courtney Paris is still the most dominating presence in the lineup, she isn’t shouldering nearly as big a load this season, thanks to her talented teammates.
It’s been seven seasons since the Sooners last made it to the Final Four back in 2002, but all of the pieces are seemingly in place to produce that sort of magical run again. “Jay C. Upchurch