NORMAN — As the Oklahoma women's basketball team watched film the day before its home finale against Kansas, what amounted to an impromptu intervention broke out.
The Sooners had lost four of their previous five games, and some players began to realize their program's 13-year run of NCAA Tournament appearances might be in jeopardy.
“I don't think everyone had it in their heads that if we don't win, we might not make the NCAA Tournament,” said senior forward Joanna McFarland.
Oklahoma won two tough games over the next three nights, earned third place in the final Big 12 standings and carry big momentum into Saturday's 8:30 p.m. conference tournament opener against West Virginia in Dallas.
The Sooners (21-9 overall, 11-7 Big 12) say they feel like an entirely different team after their impressive regular-season finish, and attribute it to an improved sense of on-court togetherness.
“We can all tell when we're playing together and when we're trying to force things and play on our own island,” said junior guard Morgan Hook. “I think we've done a good job of nipping it in the bud if it starts early.”
There are few games that better illustrate those problems than the Sooners' last meeting with West Virginia, which cruised to an 83-62 home win Feb. 3.
That defeat began Oklahoma's frustrating February, during which the Sooners went 3-5 with four losses by 10 or more points.
OU got a much-needed break, though; the Sooners went nearly a week between their Feb. 25 home loss to No. 1 Baylor and the Kansas win.
“I think there were some really good decisions made by our team about committing to the process and making sure we finish this out the right way,” said OU coach Sherri Coale.
Asked to further explain “committing to the process,” Coale said it's a message she constantly preaches, but can be difficult to put into action during long stretches that include lots of games.
“It's like one of those things that's easy to say,” Coale said. “‘Are you really doing it? Are you really committing to the process or are you worrying about the end result?'
“We went for a little spell there where we were really worried about the end result. ... (When) all those games are piled up on top of one another, you have a tendency to get into that thing.”
The Big 12 regular season proved that after Baylor, almost any team in the conference is fully capable of beating any other squad.
If OU gets past West Virginia (17-12, 9-9), it faces a likely semifinal match with Iowa State — which won both regular-season meetings with the Sooners — before encountering Baylor in Monday's championship game.
“We're the three seed, and we can still do whatever we want to do with the year,” Hook said. “I think when we realized that, it was just like a breath of fresh air. All of us know what it takes now and what's at stake.”