NORMAN — The good news for the Oklahoma women's basketball team: The Sooners have not lost consecutive games since January. The bad news: They haven't won consecutive games since January.
“When we're good, we're really good,” junior captain Whitney Hand said. “When we're bad, we're pretty terrible.”
Even though OU wound up second in the Big 12, behind only undefeated and top-ranked Baylor, it was quite the ride during a 5-5 finish.
Just examine the past couple of weeks. The Sooners upset ranked Texas A&M at home – and then were beaten by 25 at Texas. They then won by 11 at Texas Tech – and then played flat Sunday against Kansas in just their second home Big 12 loss.
Inconsistency defined the final month, as evidenced by the alternating wins and losses. That's no longer an option for OU; it's the postseason.
The Sooners (19-12) will begin Big 12 Tournament play at 5 p.m. today in the quarterfinals in Kansas City.
With several freshmen playing significant minutes and a new point guard, OU coach Sherri Coale knew there could be up-and-down shifts in performance this season. It has not been altogether unexpected, for sure.
So, it's difficult to know, really, how the Sooners will fare when they're forced to play consecutive games this week – or meaningful games next week in the NCAA Tournament.
“When it's survival mode, we usually perform pretty well,” she said. “You wish it wasn't like that. You wish we were up every night. But we're saying ‘this is it.' When you lose, you go home. We're hoping that mentality spurs an urgency.”
Then there's the fact that what OU does this week directly impacts what happens in next week's NCAA field.
The Sooners know they're hosting the first and second rounds at Lloyd Noble Center. But what will they be seeded – and who will be sent to Norman to face them? The more wins in Kansas City, the easier the road to the Sweet 16. As of now, OU is likely a 7 or 8 seed.
Coale said she sees the conference tourney as something of an audition, especially since the bulk of women's league tournaments have already concluded.
She suspects the selection committee is curious to see how OU, in particular, performs on a nightly basis – especially given the hit-and-miss nature of the team in February.
“I don't know if they know what to do with us. We're a bit of a conundrum,” she said. “‘What do we do with these guys? We know they're here; what do we do with them?'
“If you can play three games, and play really well, you stand to improve your chances dramatically, because they think you might be capable of can be proven. We have that opportunity. I think there's a lot riding on that.”
A loss today would drop the Sooners to 19-13 – and Hand at least wondered if that would make OU a bubble team.
“That's in there. That's in our minds,” she said. “But we can't think too much about that. We just have to go play.”
And play better than it did Sunday, when it fell behind Kansas 10-3 and never really competed against a more energized Jayhawks team. Coale, furious after the loss, said she felt as if the team “polished” some things in the days since.
“We think we got to the bottom of it,” Hand said.
But even if the Sooners play well today, does that mean they'll play well Friday? Saturday? Next week? There's never a guarantee – and especially given this team's recent track record.
“The whole season, we've felt like we were so close to getting on a roll,” said Hand, one of two remaining players with Final Four experience. “This would be the perfect time.”