By Athletics Communications
University of Oklahoma
DECEMBER 06, 2012
| North Texas
NORMAN, Okla. -- No. 13 Oklahoma survived to win its seventh straight game, beating North Texas 71-68 Thursday night after losing its team leader, fifth-year senior Whitney Hand to a knee injury.
Trailing 45-44 with 11 minutes to play, the Sooners (8-1) made 20 of their next 23 free throws to rally in the second half of a jarring battle with the Mean Green (2-6).
"I don't know if I've ever been prouder of a team in 17 years of doing this," OU head coach Sherri Coale said. "Unbelievable determination and they revealed their mettle and their character. I talk about their character all the time. It's one thing to talk about it, it's another thing for however many people got to witness it tonight."
With two minutes remaining in the first half, Hand planted awkwardly while attempting a contested layup
and tumbled to the court, clenching her left knee. An MRI performed after the game confirmed a tear in her ACL.
Several of the 4,938 fans in attendance wept as the crowd gave the Sooners' co-captain a standing ovation as she was helped off the court.
North Texas led 30-27 at halftime and scored the first six points of the second half. But OU would chip away at the score and Nicole Kornet, coincidentally a graduate for the same high school as Hand, would tie the game 45-45 with the first of two free throws.
Neither team would lead by more than four points for the remainder of the game. OU seized control of the lead, 61-59, on a pair of free throws from junior center Nicole Griffin
with 2:57 left and continued to ice the game from the charity stripe.
"I have no words," Coale said. "I don't even know how they could think, much less change defenses and run sets and change matchups. They revealed their strength. They are a bunch of great kids. As tough as it is for our basketball team, it's tougher because it's devastating for Whitney."
Hand was considered the Sooners' emotional leader since her first steps on the court as a freshman in OU's 2009 Final Four season. Hand tore the ACL in her right knee in the fifth game of her sophomore year and endured a 401-day rehabilitation to return in January 2011. She was voted a team captain in each of the last four seasons and was the self-proclaimed "mother hen" entering what was to be her final year.
"Nobody loves to play basketball anymore than Whitney Hand," Coale, who admitted concentrating on coaching the game was difficult, added. "I've never met a kid who loves to compete and play this game more than Whitney. The fact that she is denied that and has to endure again, is really hard for all of us to accept and understand."
Senior forward Joanna McFarland recorded her first double-double of the season with 12 points and 11 rebounds, while Griffin fell just one board shy of hers, also registering a team-high 15 points.
Morgan Hook and Sharane Campbell also scored in double-figures, recording 12 and 11 points, respectively.
The winning streak marks OU's longest since reeling off its first seven games of the 2010-11 season.
"But I will promise you this," Coale continued, "that group of warriors that showed up and finished the game, are going to fight their tails off every time they play. I guarantee you they will. They'll fight with Whitney's spirit and do everything they can. We're going to find a way to win basketball games."
Asked what words she had for Hand at halftime, Coale said: "I said a lot of things. I told her I loved her."
Oklahoma rests for finals week before hosting Vanderbilt on Sunday, Dec. 16, at 2 p.m.