Sooners end year of frustration against top teams

To Sherri Coale, it seemed like she was watching the same game

over and over again.

After making it to two straight Final Fours, her Oklahoma squad

this year couldn’t reproduce the same kind of signature wins.

The Sooners lost all eight of their games this season against

teams ranked in the top 10 and went 23-4 against everyone else.

They made it to the NCAA tournament’s round of 16 with an upset of

No. 11 Miami in the second round, but faltered against eventual

Final Four participant Notre Dame.

”I think the most frustrating thing for me is that we had that

game in our gun chamber all year. That game, I’m not talking about

the good one, I’m talking about the bad one,” Coale said

Wednesday. ”The one we played against Notre Dame, the same game we

played against Connecticut, the same game we played (against

Baylor) in Waco earlier this year.

”We had that game where we lost confidence, where we froze,

where we ‘halfway-ed’ everything that we did.”

Coale called the big-game struggles a reflection of the Sooners’

youth and a struggle to find chemistry through lineup changes and

injuries. Co-captain Whitney Hand returned at midseason after

missing a year because of knee surgeries, and the Oklahoma later

shuffled freshman Nicole Griffin into the starting lineup at center

in place of sophomore Joanna McFarland.

In the final three weeks of the season, Coale said the absence

of reserve Lyndsey Cloman because of a back injury also had an

impact.

”We just kind of had those things that plagued us along the way

that can affect consistency,” Coale said.

From this year’s squad, the Sooners will lose second-team

All-American Danielle Robinson at point guard, starting power

forward Carlee Roethlisberger and reserve guard Lauren Willis.

Coale credited the group with being diligent workers who created

the strong practice habits that allowed the back-to-back Final Four

trips to happen.

Robinson also developed – even to Coale’s surprise – over the

course of her career into one of the game’s most dynamic players.

She’s one of only four players to surpass 2,000 points, 700 assists

and 300 steals in her career.

”Until you don’t have a kid whose hands you can put the ball in

at the end of a game and say, `Go make a play,’ I don’t know that

you can really value that as much. I’ve had that and I’m going to

miss it desperately,” Coale said.

”We’ll find another person to run the point and we’ll find

another way to be very, very effective.”

Coale’s group will grow even younger next season. Backup guard

Jasmine Hartman will be the only fourth-year senior, and Coale is

leaning on Hand to continue in the leadership role she’s held even

while missing so much time.

Among the key tasks before next season is to regain that

”resolve” that the Sooners were able to show during key moments

in their previous two seasons.

”At the end of the day, always as coaches what we want is for

our kids to perform at the top end of their potential every

night,” Coale said, ”and we maybe went over the top a time or

two, but we weren’t able to do that every night.”