STILLWATER — When last the Cowgirls and Sooners met inside Gallagher-Iba Arena, the circumstances were much different from what they will be Saturday.
There was no game, no celebration, no winner.
There was only grief, sorrow and tears.
On the day of the memorial service honoring Oklahoma State coaches Kurt Budke and Miranda Serna and two others killed in a plane crash, everyone involved with the Oklahoma women's basketball program was there. Coaches. Players. Support staff.
And after the service in the privacy of the Cowgirls' locker room, the two teams came together like never before.
“At that point, we weren't rivals,” Sooner forward Joanna McFarland said. “We were sisters.”
Saturday in Stillwater, the Cowgirls and Sooners will be together again, but this time, it's for Bedlam. No one is quite sure what it will be like. Not after that dreary, overcast November day. Not when you've experienced something that changed your life.
The morning that the news about the plane crash broke, Sooner coach Sherri Coale called her team captains into the office. Whitney Hand, Lyndsey Cloman and Jasmine Hartman were stunned and sad, but they knew the Cowgirls were hurting like no one else.
What might they need?
“We couldn't come up with anything that we could give them,” Coale said, “because the obvious had been taken away.”
So, they turned the question around.
“What would you want?” Coale asked the players. “If you put yourself in that place, what would you want?”
“Somebody to be there,” they agreed.
“OK, let's be present,” she said. “Let's go.”
Three days later, everyone boarded a bus in Norman for the 90-minute drive to Stillwater and the memorial service, a drive they will make again Saturday morning for the game. The road is familiar for many. Sooner freshman Sharane Campbell attended camps and a few games there. McFarland went on an official recruiting visit and seriously considered playing for the Cowgirls.
Budke and Serna wanted her badly.
“They were my second-favorite coaches, honestly, other than this coaching staff,” McFarland said.
Their deaths hit her as close as anyone not in the OSU program.
Plus, she knew fellow Kansans and current Cowgirls Lindsey Keller and Tiffany Bias. They crossed paths often on the girls' basketball circuit. They knew each other from when they were 5 or 6 years old.
McFarland knew they were hurting.
“I wanted to see them,” she said.
McFarland the rest of the Sooners got that chance. After the memorial, an usher who escorted the team out of the arena told them that Cowgirl coach Jim Littell wanted them to attend the reception for family and friends. He wanted them to know how much their presence meant. He wanted to thank them personally.
Before they went to the reception, they headed for the Cowgirls' locker room. No one remembers exactly who led them that way or precisely how they got there.
The Sooners just knew they had to see the Cowgirls.
The Cowgirls were gathered in the lounge area of their locker room when the Sooners came in through the meeting room. It might've seemed strange, an OU team in one of OSU's inner sanctums, a place awash in orange and black where you'd never expect to see a Sooner.
But in that moment, there was nothing odd about it.
Coale talked to the Cowgirls, telling them that the best way to honor their coaches would be to compete with passion and take advantage of every day in the gym. Knowing Budke and Serna, she knew those were the things that they loved most about the game.
Then — and maybe most importantly — there were hugs. Lots of them. Few words were spoken, but the hurt on the Sooners' faces made it clear to the Cowgirls that the pain was real.
“There is just such a natural empathy there,” Coale said.
No one felt the loss more than the Cowgirls, but the Sooners could identify with them as well as anyone.
“You're a team. You're a family. You compete together. You eat together. You live together. You travel together,” Coale said. “Now suddenly the patriarch of your family is gone, your matriarch is gone.
“Nobody really gets that, not in the way they do, unless you do this.”
That's why the Sooners had to be there, why the Cowgirls appreciated the visit, why an always-intense rivalry was completely forgotten then.
“On a day like that,” Littell said, “it showed there are things more important than basketball.”
That will surely be in the back of everyone's mind Saturday morning when these two teams tip off. What will it be like being back together in the arena? How will it be seeing each other now in light of a day unlike any other?
No one knows.
Both teams want to win. Of that, there can be no question. The Cowgirls want to protect home court. The Sooners want to steal one on the road.
But the fact remains that this is a rivalry changed.
“It's just richer, deeper, fuller,” Coale said.
A rivalry changed for the better.
OKLAHOMA AT OKLAHOMA STATE
When: 11 a.m., Saturday
Where: Gallagher-Iba Arena, Stillwater
TV: Fox Sports Net (Cox 37)
Radio: KREF-AM 1400, KGFY-FM 105.5
Three things to know:
* Oklahoma is oh-for Bedlam this academic year. It has yet to beat Oklahoma State in any sport, losing in women's soccer, cross country, football, wrestling and men's basketball.
* The Cowgirls are undefeated at home this season, but the Sooners have won the last three Bedlam games in Stillwater and 12 of the past 13.
* Both teams have a super frosh — Cowgirl Liz Donohoe and Sooner Sharane Campbell. Donohoe leads OSU in scoring while Campbell averages 8.4 points off the bench.
Oklahoma (10-4, 2-1 Big 12)
G; Morgan Hook; 5-10; So.; 11.2; 4.0*
G; Aaryn Ellenberg; 5-7; So.; 17.7; 2.5
G; Whitney Hand; 6-1; Jr.; 12.4; 6.8
F; Joanna McFarland; 6-3; Jr.; 8.1; 7.9
C; Nicole Griffin; 6-6; So.; 5.1; 4.6
Oklahoma State (9-3, 1-2)
G; Tiffany Bias; 5-6; So.; 9.6; 8.1*
G; Taylor Schippers; 5-8; Fr.; 5.1; 1.7
F; Kendra Suttles; 6-1; So.; 10.8; 5.5
F; Liz Donohoe; 6-0; Fr.; 14.7; 6.3
C; Vicky McIntyre; 6-6; So.; 4.8; 5.8