NORMAN — Whitney Hand had an early-morning routine throughout high school that was simple. Wake up before 5. Arrive at the gym before 6. "And I’d shoot until my arm fell off,” she said. The Oklahoma sharpshooter would have to make 300 shots before she left the gym. "Not occasionally,” her father said. "Every morning.” Just because Hand’s routine was simple doesn’t mean it was easy. That she has become one of the Sooners’ go-to players as a freshman is no surprise. That she is one of the most dangerous weapons on a Final Four team is no accident. She worked her way here. The making of this sharpshooter began when she was only 5 or 6 years old. With six children, Rich and Susan Hand decided to save some of their drive time and sanity by enrolling daughters Jordyn and Whitney in the same sports. Never mind that Whitney was two years younger. "And I didn’t tell her she was two years younger,” Rich said, chuckling. "She elevated.” Hand and her father spent an untold number of hours working on her game. She shot. He rebounded. She worked. He tutored. They refined that straight-up, dead-eye shot. "Stay in that tunnel,” he would say. And she would listen. Hand decided when she was in sixth grade that her dream was to become a basketball player. A really good basketball player. She recognized that her dad knew what it would take. He grew up the son of a plumber in Seattle, a kid who spent hours throwing tape balls against the fence, but he became the No. 1 pick in Major League Baseball’s supplemental draft in 1969. "It would be foolish for me not to follow,” Hand said. Not that she always liked what her dad had to say. "There were days in the driveway where I wanted to throw the ball back at him and go inside,” she said, "and he wouldn’t let me until I was done.” Like the time right after Hand had just started playing summer basketball. All the girls on her team thought they were good enough to shoot threes, but they were too young and too little to get the ball to the rim without straying from their fundamentals. Rich told her not to shoot threes because it would mess with her form. Whitney shot threes anyway. Not long after, she struggled to hit anything. Three hours at their backyard hoop and hundreds of shots later, Whitney and Rich fixed the problem. That kind of work set her apart. Sooner star Courtney Paris remembered Hand when she came to OU’s summer camp as a freshman. Despite hundreds of campers, Hand was different. Paris’s opinion stayed the same the next summer when Hand played pick-up games with her future college teammates. "Wow,” Paris thought then, "this girl has to come here.” Remember, Hand was a high school sophomore at the time. But even then, she had already put in so many hours practicing with her dad, so many mornings shooting before school. "There was a point where she took that over,” said her father, who had to take her to school before she got her driver’s license. "I didn’t wake her up. She woke me up.” That was a proud moment for Rich Hand. So was Tuesday night at the Ford Center. His daughter helped spark the Sooners’ second-half surge against Purdue and propel them into the Final Four. He had tears in his eyes when his daughter found him afterward. "I’ve probably had more difficulty adjusting to her freshman year in college than she has,” Rich said, laughing. "It’s been difficult not to be involved.” Whitney said, "It was kind of a team effort.” The Final Four brings all new challenges for these Sooners. More pressure. Brighter spotlight. Higher stakes. Hand hasn’t let any of that get to her yet. In fact, she has been at her best when her team has needed her most. "I tell her, ‘You earned the chance to take the big shot at the end because you’ve taken it thousands of times,’ ” her father said. "She has prepared herself for this.”
3-Louisville vs. 1-OU
→When: 6 p.m. Sunday →Where: Scottrade Center, St. Louis →TV: ESPN (Cox 29) →Radio: KOKC-AM 1620 →Tickets: The Women’s Final Four is sold out, but a limited number of all-session tickets costing $162 are available on ticketmaster.com. Whitney Hand’s numbers
→Points per game: 9.1 (fifth on team) →Field goals: 103-257 (40.1 percent) →3-pointers attempted: 158 (first on team) →3-pointers made: 59 (first on team) →3-point shooting: 37.3 percent →Free throws: 27-33 (81.8 percent) →Season-high points: 22 vs. Pittsburgh in Sweet 16 2-STANFORD VS. 1-CONNECTICUT
→When: 8:30 p.m. Sunday →Where: Scottrade Center, St. Louis →TV: ESPN (Cox 29) →Tickets: The Women’s Final Four is sold out, but a limited number of all-session tickets costing $162 are available on ticketmaster.com.