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Thompson's Toughness the X-Factor
April 02, 2009
NORMAN, Okla. (AP) -- It took a certain amount of dedication for Amanda Thompson to play the final two months of her freshman season at Oklahoma with her shoulder in a harness.

But when the season ended and an exam revealed she'd been playing all that time with a torn labrum - a more serious injury than previously thought - it showed that she hadn't just persevered. She was tough as nails, too.

So when Oklahoma needed some extra tenacity to make one last push into the Final Four, coach Sherri Coale knew where to turn - even if her gritty captain had been sidelined by an injured left foot that still hadn't healed.

After playing sparingly through the first three rounds of the NCAA tournament, Thompson finally got called into action with just over 11 minutes left and the Sooners leading Purdue by a single point.

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"I jumped off the seat so fast. I couldn't even take my jacket off fast enough,'' Thompson said Thursday. "I was real excited. When I was sitting there at the table, I was rocking. I was just so ready to get in there.

"I knew when I'd get in there, I'd just do everything I could to take us to that next point.''

Coale knew it, too. While the rest of the Sooners' starters create most of the highlight-reel plays, Thompson gets the dirty work done. Entering the tournament, the 6-foot small forward ranked second on the team in assists, steals and blocks and third in rebounds.

"She's a tough, tough kid and we get it on the court in the way she goes after rebounds, in her effort. And we get it off the court intangibly with her spirit and her will,'' Coale said.

That will manifested itself when, in a span of 2 minutes and 15 seconds, she hit a contested jumper from the left wing, made a dazzling look-away pass that earned Courtney Paris a trip to the free-throw line and then scored on a putback to help keep Purdue at arm's length.

Thompson called the jumper one of the biggest shots of her life, and Coale said she thought it proclaimed to everyone on the court: "You can't get us now.''

"I think everybody was kind of nervous, more nervous for me than I was nervous,'' Thompson said. "I felt like that was my message to everybody that I'm OK, I'm still A.T. and I'm still going to do what I have to do.''

The Sooners (32-4) won 74-68 and earned a chance to play Louisville (33-4) on Sunday in the national semifinals in St. Louis.

"She's been like that X-factor we had the whole season. She's been the heartbeat of our team, and having her on the court gave us a big spark,'' guard Whitney Hand said.

Thompson missed the first game of her career in the first round and had logged only 3 minutes apiece in the second round against Georgia Tech and the third round against Pittsburgh.

"I wasn't worried. I put everything behind me,'' Thompson said. "I was like, `Man, forget this injury. Let's just go.' When I got out there, I just played basketball and I didn't think about anything else.''

The injury has still been somewhat limiting. Coale said Thompson was able to do more during practice Thursday, but she would taper off her workload so she could get the most out of her on Sunday.

"I know she's in a lot of pain and she's also got to be frustrated because she worked her entire career and here at the most important juncture, she can't play 40 minutes like she's used to,'' Coale said. "I haven't heard her complain one time.''

It's that demeanor that helped that helped the native Chicagoan get chosen as a captain.

She ended up needing reconstructive surgery and missed 4 1/2 months of summer workouts with the shoulder injury that she battled through for the final two months leading up to the 2006 NCAA tournament.

Looking back, she thinks that time helped her when she had to sit out actual games for the first time - and during a critical stretch of the postseason.

"It's been real tough, mentally and physically, but I've just got to be strong and I've got to be strong for my teammates,'' Thompson said. "I've just been battling with that.

"I'm ready all the time, but I know I'm not 100 percent.''

In the regional final, Coale said she "knew going into the game that she would give me everything she had, and I also knew I had to put her in at exactly the right place and exactly the right time.''

That came purely on intuition. When Ashley Paris picked up her second foul in the first half, Coale kept Thompson on the bench even though it's usually her that slides over to power forward when Paris needs a rest. She used Thompson for a couple brief spurts in the final 2 minutes of the first half, then waited patiently until the game was in the balance to bring her back again.

"That was my big thing with her is I may need her to get a defensive stop and I may need her to get a key rebound, and where is that going to be?'' And she was ready,'' Coale said. "She was ready when her time came.''

Thompson said that her foot typically bothers her only after she's done playing, but that nothing was going to keep her out of the Final Four. The Sooners got bounced from the tournament in the round of 16 her freshman year and then exited a round before that last year.

"I feel like we've been traveling on this hill and we've been trying to get over it. Getting to the Final Four is that hump that we've been trying to get over,''

"Now we've just got to keep on going and not settle with just making it to the Final Four. We've still got business to take care of.''

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