NORMAN — Oklahoma might not have qualified for the NCAA Tournament — much less the Sweet 16 — without senior forward Joanna McFarland's considerable transformation.
That's how Whitney Hand sees it, anyway.
“I believe that with my whole heart,” Hand said. “Big plays. Always big rebounds, big shots. We can't not have her on the court.”
McFarland's 38 points and 33 rebounds through the first two tournament games were critical in sixth-seeded Oklahoma's victories, which set up Sunday's regional semifinal with No. 2-seed Tennessee at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
The story of how McFarland, who entered her senior season with 38 career starts and averages of 4.8 points and 5.8 rebounds, became vital to Oklahoma's success began with an early December catastrophe inside Lloyd Noble Center.
“When Whitney (Hand) got hurt,” McFarland responded when asked to pinpoint the onset of her transformation.
Hand, a senior guard, team leader and fan favorite, suffered a career ending ACL tear late in the first half of the Sooners' win over North Texas.
“I thought, ‘It's gotta be done; it's gotta be right now,'” McFarland said.
Statistics support McFarland's claim, and they're remarkable: At halftime against North Texas, Oklahoma trailed and McFarland had scored just two points.
After the break, she scored 10, including four free-throws in the final minutes that helped secure OU's 71-68 win.
But the stunning statistics go far beyond one game. McFarland started Oklahoma's first three games of the 2012-13 season, recorded a total of six points and 12 rebounds and was benched.
2013 NCAA Oklahoma City Regional
When: Sunday (OU vs. Tennessee at 3:30 p.m.; Baylor vs. Louisville at 6 p.m.); Tuesday (8 p.m.)
Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena
Tickets: All-sessions tickets — courtside levels ($48); end zones ($35); Individual session tickets — courtside levels ($32), end zones ($21.
Phone numbers: 1-800-745-3000; (405) 236-5000.