|| Road to New Orleans
Sherri Coale said she thinks her team is better than they believe they are. Oklahoma returned seven players, including its starting five, from last year's squad. Led by All-Big 12 First Team selections Aaryn Ellenberg and Whitney Hand, the media have OU ranked No. 12 and coaches No. 14 in the preseason polls, the highest among any team not ranked at the end of last season.
Regardless of anyone's opinion, the Sooners' expectations are so high for the upcoming season, they declared an intrasquad scrimmage featuring 41 percent 3-point shooting and 31-to-14 assist-to-turnover total "terrible." Getting to a 14th consecutive NCAA tournament is not enough for 12th ranked Oklahoma -- these Sooners will settle for nothing less than a national title.
"It's not how we've practiced for the past 10 days," junior point guard Morgan Hook said. "There's not much you can really say than it was in our control and we just didn't come out with any energy. It's the first time our fans got to see us.
"That was our first impression and that's not how we've performed. It was just embarrassing for us because that's not how we've performed the past 10 days. For us, that's not what we want our fans to see."
Energy may be the only issue OU has to contend with by its first regular-season game. Thanks to their overseas tour of Australia, the Sooners have a leg up on preseason preparations after beginning training with their new parts and pieces July 31.
Among those new pieces are junior college transfer Portia Durrett, a first-team NJCAA All-American forward from Walters State College in Morristown, Tenn., and freshmen Nicole Kornet, a WBCA High School All-America Game MVP, and Maddie Manning, Iowa's state tournament MVP and Gatorade Player of the Year.
"They're more ready than most guys coming into a Division I program for the first time," Coale said. "They're junkies, they understand the game; they've played a lot. They've been around really good players. They've been coached well, so they're ready.
"And all three, I think the one characteristic that ties them all together is they're all three extremely competitive. They don't want to lose a shooting drill. They don't want to lose a 3-on-3 game. They don't want to lose if we play Monopoly."
With that mentality and a winning tradition driving it, it's understandable that the Sooners would be hard on themselves even before the first game. Oklahoma gets to mend its impression Thursday.
|| Nothing but Kornet
Speaking of rankings, Nicole Kornet was one of the top-rated guards coming out of Liberty Christian School, slotted as high as fifth-best nationally by Blue Star Report. Her stance mirrors that of the team and its preseason ranking: Go prove it.
"It doesn't really matter until you actually get to college and what you can do about it," Kornet said. "It's a number, but I'm just excited to be here, to play and see how things turn out."
Kornet's father, Frank, played two seasons in the NBA -- both with the Milwaukee Bucks. Couple that with having two brothers, John and Luke, that stand tall at 6-10 and 6-9, respectively, Kornet had plenty of obstacles to shoot over.
"I remember being a little girl and I'd be out there with all of these giants just trying to shoot at the basket," Kornet said. "I couldn't hit anything."
That's hardly a problem now. Known for her ability to put the ball through the hoop, Kornet's strong-suit has helped her adapt to playing at Oklahoma.
"I think for me when I get out there and start playing, I fall back into my same rhythm," Kornet said. "I want to get things going. I'm a shooter so I love to shoot. When I get out there and I make it, it just fires me up."
|| Establishing Identity
Two exhibition games at the Lloyd Noble Center will prelude the start of the 2012-13 season, starting with Thursday night's matinee with Oklahoma City at 7 p.m. CT.
While the anticipation for the regular-season opener at Creighton on Nov. 10 is high, the Sooners will take these first two contests seriously.
"We want to make a statement of what the year is going to be like," junior center Nicole Griffin said. "Just because they're exhibition games doesn't mean anything. We want to work on stuff we need to work on to get better."
The Sooners are looking to establish themselves in front of the home crowd and provide a sneak peek of the level of play that OU fans can expect all season long.
"I think we really want to cement our team identity, which is we want to be really good at defensive transition and we want to be really sure with the ball on offense," senior forward Joanna McFarland said.
The Sooners host two exhibition contests starting with Oklahoma Christian on Thursday night:
vs. Henderson St.
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Oklahoma held an open-to-the-public scrimmage last Friday. OU won (obviously), but wasn't satisfied:
Head Coach Sherri Coale
"I'd put my guards against anybody in America. I really would. They're talented, they're earnest, and they're conscientious. I think our groups always have strong chemistry and this group has an extraordinary vibe about them. They understand one another's strengths and weaknesses and how to play off of those."
Senior G Whitney Hand
"Our goal is to win a national championship and I can say that with full confidence this year. That's my definition of success. Our tradition here is to win conference championships and we haven't done that in a while. Me, the seniors and everyone on the team, that's the goal. I got to do it my freshman year and we haven't done it since. We've had a little bit of a drought, so we're going for it."
Junior G Aaryn Ellenberg
"I'm excited so far. We have a really good team and I think we all have a good vibe together, so everything's looking pretty good. I'm just excited to get it started and see what we can do together. I feel like everybody is focused and on the same page."
For the fourth time, Whitney Hand, a fifth-year senior, will serve as a team co-captain along with Lyndsey Cloman (second straight year) and Morgan Hook. The captains were decided based on a vote of the team.
Oklahoma was picked to finish second in the Big 12 behind defending national champion Baylor. The Sooners have finished the regular season at or better than the preseason prediction in six of the last seven seasons and four straight years.
While only two-thirds of OU's team returns from 2011-12, the Sooners kept 89 percent of their scoring and 85 percent of their rebounds, assists and blocks.
OU does return its starting lineup for the first time since 2008-09. That was the year OU won its last Big 12 title and made the first of back-to-back Final Four appearances.
Aaryn Ellenberg was named to the five-member Preseason All-Big 12 Team while Whitney Hand was an honorable mention. Both were honorable mentions to last year's preseason team but finished the year on the first team.
OU got a jump on the preseason with a 10-day tour of Australia in August. When the Sooners weren't hanging out with kangaroos and crocodiles, they were winning ball games. OU went 4-0 against a mix of professional, university and all-star teams.
Soph. G Sharane Campbell
The 2012 Big 12 Sixth Man Award winner was OU's leading scorer in the intrasquad scrimmage, hitting seven of nine shots, including five of seven 3-pointers, for 19 points.
Junior G Aaryn Ellenberg
Ellenberg ranks third in career 3-pointers made with 168 in two seasons. She is the third OU sophomore to cross 1,000 career points, joining Courtney Paris (2006-09) and Molly McGuire (1980-83).
Junior C Nicole Griffin
Veterans regard Griffin as the team's most improved player. It showed with an 8.8 point-per-game performance, the third best on the team, in OU's series of games in Australia in August.
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Join head coach Sherri Coale, who shares her thoughts in her own blog hosted on SoonerSports.com, providing the inside view of her program:
Coach Coale's Blog