Posted: 12:00 p.m. Sunday, March 31, 2013
By David Hooper
I have a feeling that, win or lose, this is going to be a very good game.
Before I get into that, I feel compelled to once again reflect and note that this year's team has already accomplished more than we probably give them credit for, simply because we've been spoiled with having that program over the last few decades. It's a team that basically lost all the major players from last year, both on the floor and as a head coach, then promptly started by the first loss in the annual Chattanooga game since before disco was a thing. Comparing this year's team to last years: they don't have the experience and injuries have definitely impeded their progress, but they're a harder working bunch and seem more closely knit as a group. They'd also fall on a sword to prove how much they support Warlick. All that is to basically say that I'm already pretty pleased with the year they've had. I still expect the win today, but so long as they play their best, I can go into the offseason satisfied with how far they've come.
Now looking at the game at hand: last weekend, I was pulling for Oklahoma because UCLA was surging (and had recently beaten another NCAA #2 seed Cal during the PAC-12 tournament). When the Sooners took the early lead and never let the Bruins sniff an opportunity for victory, I immediately felt better about Tennessee's chances at the Elite Eight. Then I started looking at Oklahoma in greater depth, and I realized that they're probably every bit the challenge that UCLA would have been.
First, the Sooners have had a worse injury run than Tennessee. Two starters were lost to injury (senior Whitney Hand in December and freshman Maddie Manning in November), and freshman Tara Dunn was also lost on the year at the outset. Those who follow women's basketball will likely recognize Hand's name immediately; she's basically been Oklahoma's star for her career. The loss of the two freshmen reduced Oklahoma's depth to lolNOPE levels, and they had to borrow two volleyball players to hold 5-on-5 drills in practice. The loss of Hand was the final straw, and nine of OU's ten losses came after she tore her ACL.
But much like how Jarnell Stokes became better after adjusting to life without Jeronne Maymon, the Sooners seem to have finally adapted to their thin rotation. Their last few games have been better played than during early conference play, and they have role players doing all kinds of role player things on the court. Joanna McFarland averaged 11 boards and 11 points in conference play. 6'-6" Nicole Griffin is getting two blocks per game. Point guard Morgan Hook earns 7 assists per game, and Aaryn Ellenberg leads the team with 19 points per game. No one player is the clear star, but each has their own strength and those strengths have become stronger as the season had come to its closing stages. That's exactly what makes them dangerous, and exactly why this game should be entertaining.
A few bullets to chew:
So there you have it. These two teams really look like a great match on paper, and both have reasons to expect a good outcome, so they should play with confidence. I'll go with Tennessee over Oklahoma, 75 - 65, with a bit of that coming by late free throws. Let's say one Oklahoma player fouls out (likely on those late fouls), just for good measure.
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