NORMAN — In her first practice in nearly two months without a mask, it didn't take long for Joanna McFarland to be tested.
An elbow to her face from a scout team player Tuesday caused teammates to hold their breaths, but McFarland came through just fine.
“I wasn't scared or anything,” McFarland said. “He felt bad about it but it was good. I realized, ‘So, I will get hit and I'll be just fine.'”
McFarland and the Sooners host Michigan at approximately 6:30 Sunday night in their NCAA Tournament opener.
A healthy McFarland could be critical for the Sooners in the tournament. Last season, she came off the bench to record back-to-back double-doubles to start the tournament as OU's women advanced to the Sweet 16.
Before breaking her jaw against Oklahoma State on Jan. 14, McFarland was emerging as one of the Sooners' biggest forces on both ends of the court.
“She was just playing with a tremendous amount of confidence,” OU point guard Morgan Hook said. “Offensively, defensively on the boards, she was leading us in 3-point percentage, she was just doing everything well.”
After missing six games following her injury, McFarland returned with the mask and that confidence quickly fizzled away.
The mask was uncomfortable and restricting, and she struggled to find her place again.
“It's really weird wearing it,” she said. “It has a drop chin so I don't get hit in the jaw and it's really tight because it had to be completely secured.
“I'm grateful that they made it so that I could play but I'm really grateful I don't have to wear it anymore.”
Before the injury, she was averaging 8.7 points and a team-high 8.1 rebounds in more than 28 minutes per game.
In the 11 games since her return, McFarland is averaging less than 2 points and 4 rebounds in 17 minutes per game.
She's just 5 for 29 (17 percent) from the floor since her return.
“When I came back it was just game, game, game, game and now we have a week to prepare,” McFarland said. “It's really helped having that time to get used to things.