Oklahoma has overcome adversity, sets sights on title
Posted: Thursday March 22, 2007 5:05PM; Updated: Friday March 23, 2007 11:01AM
Things haven't come easily for Oklahoma this season, but the difficult road the Sooners have traveled may just lead them to the national championship.
After overcoming a losing stretch and lineup changes, the Sooners are playing their best basketball of the season. And their timing couldn't be better. They're riding a 10-game winning into Sunday's Sweet 16 matchup with Ole Miss.
"I feel like we're more prepared for any sort of obstacles we might face," coach Sherri Coale said. "Last year, we tried to create that pressure in practice, but you can only go so far. The players know it's not real. This year, we've had to scratch and claw and fight our way for everything."
This year's team has indeed faced some adversity. After running the table in the Big 12 a year ago, Coale's team found itself in unfamiliar territory during a late-January, early-February stretch when it lost three of four games.
It was during a loss against to Texas A&M that Coale took a big risk and trusted in the character of her team by inserting freshman point guard Jenna Plumley into the lineup to control a backcourt that had struggled to take care of the ball.
The credit for the recent success isn't Plumley's alone, though.
Freshman Amanda Thompson has also moved into the starting lineup, where she has thrived and Oklahoma's seniors have accepted new roles. For some, that means coming off the bench instead of starting.
"It was very difficult, very difficult," Coale said. "Not only had I coached those seniors, and taught them and worked with them for four years, they also led us to some pretty significant achievements."
They're still contributing. Guards Kendra Moore and Britney Brown have provided leadership in the way they handled their changing roles and continue to do so by tutoring Plumley, offering up advice between timeouts and games.
"I wouldn't be the player I am without them," Plumley said. "They've got four years of experience. They set me aside and tell me things I need to do. It's great having them as mentors and friends."
Chelsi Welch, who has started 97 games, is coming off the bench and giving the Sooners an added outside threat. With NBA three-point range, Welch and Plumley extend defenses and ease the pressure on Courtney Paris in the paint.
Leah Rush has returned to the starting lineup with even more determination to take Oklahoma on a lengthy run. In fact, at a time when her team is at its best, Rush may just be having the best stint of her career. She scored 29 points in the first two rounds and hit several timely threes against Southeast Missouri State and Marquette.
The Sooners needed those shots, too. That's because, once again, victory didn't come easily -- at least not in the opening round. The 14th-seeded Redhawks gave the third-seeded Sooners all they could handle.
"It's been a challenging year," Welch said. "We didn't run the table in the Big 12. With so many of us coming back, a lot of people expected that. But those losses helped us mature and realize that we're not always going to be perfect. It helped us grow as a team."
Maybe a championship team.