Sooners outman Highlanders

NORMAN, Okla. — After dropping their first attempt, the Sooners have won their first Whitney Hand-less game, proving to be too much to handle in a 70-46 decision over the UC Riverside Highlanders Thursday night at Lloyd Noble Center.

"I thought we settled down a little bit today and found a little bit more rhythm about us, got our legs under us, got a little confidence, made some shots in the second half, really adhered to the game plan well," said OU head coach Sherri Coale.

Guard Aaryn Ellenberg led that charge.

She guided the way with her game-high 27 points on 9-for-17 shooting, including 6-of-8 from downtown and, as the obvious candidate, showed the first sign of a Sooner that can step up and provide her scoring while also replacing Hand's in OU's thinner lineup.

"I don't really know how to answer that because I think I'm always looking to score," said Ellenberg, when probed on whether she was looking to score more. "But I think for me more it's about taking better shots, not like trying to force it and do it all myself. I think it's about me taking smarter shots and being in rhythm."

Coale, who joked that she almost had to play Jeopardy music for Ellenberg to come up with the correct answer, made it clear, though, that the most impressive part of the junior's stat line was 30 minutes without a turnover.

"Oh, no turnovers," Ellenberg said. "I didn't have any turnovers…Yeah, I wrote that in my postgame."

She also distributed four assists in that time frame.

Meanwhile, the Sooners as a team dished out 19 assists despite turning the ball over 16 times.

They shot it 42.1 percent, the first time they've been over 40 percent since the Marist game at the beginning of the month.

Ellenberg was undoubtedly a huge part of that, but so was center Nicole Griffin, who heated up in the second half and cashed in seven of her 13 overall looks for 18 points.

"Well, we really wanted to attack the paint early on," Coale said. "We felt like we had an advantage with Nic in there and actually ironically that didn't really happen until the end of the game. That's really where she stacked her points in. But that will happen sometimes, too. One is a reflection of the other. We were able to get Vegas some open looks because they were concerned about Nic in the paint, and then when she knocks down threes, then you have an opening and you're able to feed and get clean looks at the basket.

"So, the two complement one another and I think had we gone at it a little more, Morgan [Hook] would have been right there with the two of them in terms of scoring had we drawn it up that way."

As good as they were offensively, the Sooners equaled that mark on the defensive side of the ball.

OU limited UC Riverside to 31.7 percent from the floor, including a stifling 0-for-11 from 3-point range.

The Sooners hassled the Highlanders into 16 turnovers and converted those into 22 points.

"I thought our guards did a great job of keeping a hand high, meeting them early, getting through flare screens, guarding the curls," Coale said. "They really took away Riverside's strengths, and that's what we tried to do with our game plan, so I'm really pleased. I thought we were focused and ready to go."

And with that, the Sooners move to 9-2 on the season with their final non-conference game looming in balance against Cal State Northridge at 1 p.m. CT Dec. 29 at Lloyd Noble Center.

Those two will do battle before OU opens up conference play against new Big 12 foe West Virginia just after the first of the year.

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