COLLEGE STATION, Texas — The Sooners stand in agreement, admitting their loss to Texas A&M — and the loss of their Big 12-record win streak — was for the best. Mostly, it was the way they lost, ugly and under pressure, that's deemed beneficial, revealing a weakness previously unexposed. A weakness of handling intense pressure, if left undetected and unattended to, could have caught up to them when it mattered most in the NCAA Tournament. "Before that game, we never truly put an emphasis on on-ball pressure,” said Oklahoma center Courtney Paris. "Nobody played us like that before.” Not everybody can, especially in the Big 12. But beyond, it's a trademark of top teams like Maryland and North Carolina and Duke and Tennessee. Now it's time to see what the No. 12-ranked OU women have learned, facing A&M in a Big 12 South rematch. Not — the Sooners are intent on proving — a replay. "We've got to apply the things we've learned,” Paris said, "and find out, ‘Have we gotten better?' "Let's go again, see what happens.” What happened the first time was telling. The Aggies rolled into Lloyd Noble Center and took it to the Sooners with a mugging style that produced a defensive game. With A&M harassing OU's guards and cutting off passing lanes to Paris, the Sooners committed a season-worst 28 turnovers and shot a season-low 32.7 percent from the floor. "Particularly for a team that relies on skill and cutting, it can be difficult to get any offensive cadence against that,” said Sooners coach Sherri Coale. "So it is kind of difficult to simulate and prepare for. "Bottom line is you just have to be tough enough to handle it and go score anyway.” Said point guard Kendra Moore: "Just be patient. We rushed a lot the last time. We've got to learn how to compose ourselves.” Coale has done her best to simulate A&M's pressure. The Sooners practice against a scout team of men and Coale has used six and seven against her five at times. "You try the best you can to simulate it, make them play through fouling and grabbing and holding and all that stuff,” Coale said. All that stuff that some call "ugly ball,” although Aggies coach Gary Blair takes exception to such description. "OK, why does defense always have to be ugly?” Blair asked after the game in Norman. "I call it good.” Good enough for the Aggies, who have now won five straight and risen to No. 16 in the rankings. Good, long term, for the Sooners? "Anything you can learn before the tournament is perfect,” Paris said. "And we learned a lot. "In the tournament, you're going to see so many different games, different styles. It just helps to expose different things so you can work at fixing them.” The Sooners would also like to fix the standings in their favor. Before the first meeting with A&M, OU owned a 26-game conference winning streak and a two-game lead in the standings. Now they're tied at the top with the Aggies and Nebraska, all at 8-2. A loss today would make it difficult for the Sooners to repeat as Big 12 champions. "It's a huge game for them as well as us,” Coale said. "It goes both ways.” Still, it's the Sooners who are facing the pressure. "It is what it is,” Coale said. "We know how they're going to play. There will be no surprises. We're more prepared for it this time than last. "I expect we'll handle it much better.”
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Oklahoma at Texas A&M•When: 1 today •Where: Reed Arena, College Station •TV: FSN (Cox 37) •Radio: KOKC-AM 1520 Projected lineups
|Texas A&M (18-4, 8-2)|
|Oklahoma (18-3, 8-2)|