The Oklahoma women's basketball team lost to Ole Miss Sunday, 90-82, in a very disappointing fashion in the Sweet 16 of the Dayton Regional.
The Sooners ended the season 28-5 and as the Big 12 Regular season Co-Champs and the Big 12 Tournament Champs, but still finish the season is somewhat of a disappointing fashion.
In each of Oklahoma's five losses this year, to teams who were more athletic and could pressure their guards. OU felt going into the Mississippi game that by putting freshman point guard Jenna Plumley and Amanda Thompson into the starting line-up and bringing seniors Chelsi Welch, Kenda Moore and Britney Brown off the bench, that they had a better chance to overcome the pressure defenses that stymied them in those earlier losses.
However, the Ole Miss game proved that the Sooners were wrong in their assesment and still not quite athletic enough, or good enough at the guard position, to beat teams that can put a ton of pressue on them.
How ironic is it that in the end of a game against the most athletic team they played that Plumley was on the bench because she couldn't handle the pressure, and that Brown, Welch and Erin Higgins were on the court fighting until their last Sooner breath?
In many ways, the way this game ended tells the tale of the whole year for Oklahoma. The Sooners were very good and, yes, among the top 12 in the country. However, there is a seperation among the top five or six teams in the country and the next 12, and the Sooners are in the next 12.
Oklahoma is still a very good program, but they still need to take that next step if they really want to contend for the National Championship. They need to get more athletic while also remaining Oklahoma, which means they will still need to have girls who can shoot the three.
The game was a microcosim of the season in that Courtney Paris finished with big numbers of 31 points and 20 rebounds, but she couldn't make up for the 26 turnovers. Turnovers became the drug the Sooners could never recover from this year.
It was a weird game for Paris in that she was unstoppable for the most part when she could get the ball on the block, but too many times she watched as her guards couldn't get the ball to her, or past halfcourt for that matter. Also, it seemed like Paris, and her sister Ashley, could have 40 rebounds instead of 29 if they would learn that they have to be fundamentally sound on the boards as well as be big and strong.
I know it sounds ridiculous to knock the twins after they grab 29 boards, but they did that on sheer ability, not fundamentals, and the quicker Rebels grabbed rebounds by out-jumping and out-quicking the Sooners. Coach Coale has takled to them until they are blue in the face about blocking out, and she will have to continue to stress it.
OU won the reboudning battle 49-44 and outshot the Rebels 46.4 percent to 37.8. However, the Sooners put the Rebles on the line 41 times (29 makes). OU was only 11-of-14 on the line. Yes, the officials could have called more fouls against the scrambling Rebels, but they to were mesmerized by their speed and quickness.
After the game, Coale was ask what her teamed lacked and she said overall speed and quickness. Courtney Paris said after the game, as she was fighting back tears, that she felt the underclassmen let the seniors down and that she had so much fun watching them play because they always fought so hard. She said she would not have come to OU if it wasn't for them.
To be honest, it was an honest assesment from CP3 as Leah Rush, Welch, Brown, Kenda Moore, Higgins and Krista Sanchez also give everything they have and always play hard. But against really athletic teams, they don't quite have enough skill or athletic ability to get it done. The underclassmen didn't let anybody down, but those senioir did a lot for the program.
That doesn't mean those six won't be missed and that we should forget about them. They all won a ton of games, Big 12 regular season and tournament championships the last two years and went to the Sweet 16 in back-to-back seasons.
Out of the six, Rush will be missed the most. Rush struggled against Ole Miss scoring just nine points and grabbing two rebounds, but she is a very talented all-around player who stands a good chance to play in the WNBA or in Europe.
Now, this may sound strange but OU may be a better team next year. Courtney promises to come back in better shape and as a better athlete, and Ashely will become one of the best players in the country next year. Thompson showed this season she can play with anybody and that she has a chance to be outstanding. Guard Nyeshia Stevenson is the best pure athlete on the team and if she works on her ball skills in the off-season, and she will because she wants to be good, she has a chance to privde that missing athletic abiity that the Sooners currently don't have.
Abi Olajuwon has skills and if she will work on her shape and conditioning this summer, she can be a super third post. Rose Hammond is another outstanding athlete that will get a chance to make her mark next year.
Plumley proved she can play on this level and she will get a ton of help from freshman Danielle Robinson, who is an elite prep point guard out of California. Robinson is very athletic and very fast and will play like the Ole Miss and Texas A&M guards that the Sooners had so many problems with.
Arkansas freshman Jenny Vining is one of the best prep 3-point shooters in the country, and Carlee Roethlisberger was just named the best prep women's basketball player in Ohio. She is just now playing basketball full-time for the first time so who knows just how good she can be, but her athletic ability is off the charts and she could be great.
With Robinson, Plumley, Hammond, Thompson, and Stevenson playing the guards spots, OU will be a better man defensive team and have more athletic ability on the perimeter. I can't stress how fast Thompson really is many of you have seen Stevenson. She may dunk the ball some day and nobody is as fast as her on the court. Then you bring Vining off the bench to bomb three's and OU could be very good guard.
The frontline will consist of Thompson, Paris and Paris, and with back-ups Olajuwon and Roethlisberger they could be very, very good. OU will have more athletic ability next year in the back court and will bring more athletic and talented big players off the bench.
OU is close, they are very close. However, women's collegiate basketball is changing and teams are getting more athletic. Outside of Price and Awkward, Ole Miss wasn't more skilled than OU. In fact, at some spots they weren't close but they played a defensive philosophy that took OU out of their game.
This offseason OU will work to overcome that and will work to become more athletic. Recruiting will take care of some of that, but a great offseason of conditioning will have to make up the rest. How hard the Sooners work will determine if they can take that next step to the Final Four.