As the final buzzer sounded, Joanna McFarland's head fell. Eventually, her eyes reddened to the color of her hair. When the formalities were over and the Sooners left the court, 74-59 losers to Tennessee, McFarland exited at a trot. The first one into the tunnel.
I don't know to what McFarland was running. Maybe she doesn't either. But I'll bet it's something special.
What a concept, this arena of sport. It thrills and disappoints, angers and uplifts. But when done right, it can change a life.
Joanna McFarland did it right. The OU senior didn't play her best game Sunday at Chesapeake Arena. McFarland had 14 points and 16 rebounds, numbers that have become her calling card down the stretch of this season, but she also missed 11 shots and committed six turnovers.
Truth is, Tennessee was too athletic for OU. The Volunteers were quicker and stronger. More skilled, too. Unlike in men's basketball, a five-minute eye test in women's hoops can tell you the difference between a No. 2 seed and a No. 6 seed.
The Vols found much easier shots than did the Sooners. OU had a first-half stretch in which it scored on only one of 17 possessions, then the Sooners had the same one-of-17 spree in the second half.
Tennessee was just better than OU. But that doesn't change the story of these Sooners or McFarland, who in three NCAA Tournament games had 52 points and 49 rebounds. Down the homestretch of her career, McFarland went from role player to OU's best player. Went from a hard-working post player to a team leader, an example of what happens with sold-out commitment.
“It's always sad at the end of something,” McFarland said, explaining her emotions. “This is just the end of a part of my life. This team means so much to me that it was really sad. But I'm looking forward to the future.”
Sherri Coale said toughness and relentless work ethic come to mind when she thinks of McFarland. But when Coale remembers McFarland, the process is going to be at the forefront.
“This process of playing collegiate athletics, what it does to you if you let it,” Coale said. “And what it did to Joanna because she let it, was she learned to be really, really comfortable in her own skin. What a cool thing to leave college with. You got a diploma, and you got that.
“She's a perfectionist. She's a kid that wants to make 100 on every test. She wants to make every single basket that she shoots. Early on in her career, she beat herself up every time that didn't happen.
“She figured out how to not do that anymore. And how to be OK with striving and enjoy the success and not be so bent on perfection. And that's hard. For kids wound that way, that's a really hard thing to do.”
McFarland played basketball in the same vein in which she matured. Coale, channeling the old English teacher from Norman High School days, says Robert Frost said it best. The best way out is always through, Frost wrote. “She just went through,” Coale said. “Wasn't always pretty, wasn't always easy. But she got to the other side.”
That's the way McFarland played these last few weeks, when the Sooners salvaged what appeared to be a cursed season. She fought for rebounds when she couldn't jump for them. She scrapped for loose balls when possessions didn't come easy. She stepped outside for jump shots when she couldn't jump over the athletic marvels that often were assigned to defend her.
“Jo taught me how to be tough,” said OU sophomore Sharene Campbell. “Crash, rebound, want the ball.”
Want to is a lot of basketball. But it's not all, which is why Tennessee is moving on in the tournament and McFarland is moving on with what promises to be a successful life.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.