Oklahoma on a whirlwind.
Dec. 14, 2009 -- On Monday November 30th, I put up my Christmas Tree. But it felt more like Groundhog Day. . . .
We had just returned from the Virgin Islands where we played in fits and starts versus South Carolina. Then against San Diego State in game two, we started to see the light. We defended with abandon. We executed with pop. We ran and we rebounded and we played with a fight and an intelligence I had envisioned before the season began. Then Whitney crumbled into a ball in front of the scorers' table clutching her right knee.
And I went back to 2003.
Here's a quick recap: Fresh off our first Final Four we were rebuilding and working toward an identity; then came Black Tuesday. Erin Higgins went down with an ACL in shootaround, and then Caton Hill went down with an ACL in the game. Suddenly, the team that went to the National Championship game in 2002 was stunned and thin. And getting ready to play Top-10 North Carolina.
Erin and Caton went down on Nov. 27, 2003. Whit on Nov. 26, 2009. What is it exactly about going to the Final Four???
So there we were in the Virgin Islands, stunned and thin and next on the docket was No. 5 Notre Dame. I swear I saw Rod Serling standing in the corner of the gym.
We survived the second half against San Diego State without Whitney Hand. It was the old adrenaline kick, where you're too shocked to be frozen so you just go. But a little less than 24 hours later when we took the floor to face Notre Dame, reality had begun to set in. And in the second half with Whit on the bench wrapped in cellophane and ice and D-Rob on the bench with four fouls, we just could not survive the number five team in the country.
When you lose a key player, you go through a process. You ache for the kid--for the broken knee, but maybe even more for the broken heart. And then you make a plan to help her move on. Next, you re-evaluate your team and your goals and your season and you put together a plan to win anyway. Nobody said it was going to be easy.
And easy, it has certainly not been. But I can't remember when I've had so much fun on the sideline.
Once we returned home from the Virgin Islands, we scored in bunches versus Texas Arlington, finishing with 102. And we rallied to win in overtime against a pesky, well-coached, very hot-shooting Arkansas team. The fraction of our home crowd who gave up and left early missed a whale of an ending and a celebration that was as much cathartic as it was celebratory. Whatever it was, it made you glad you'd spent your Saturday afternoon in a gym watching ball.
So there we are at 6-2. We're a little bit bruised and a little bit scarred, but we're standing. And we're fighting. I love coaching this team.
On the eve of a road trip to New York where we'll play two games with yellow caution tape wrapped all around them, I envision what we might become. The verdict is certainly still out. We have to concentrate harder; we have to communicate better. Our margin of error is tiny and our dreams are very big.
But on Groundhog Day everything repeats. Not just the bad, but the good as well. And I have to grin as I think about 2003.
Because when people ask me about my favorite moments as a coach, I always talk about 1999 and the day we broke into the Top 25. And I talk about 2002, when we shocked the world by going to our first Final Four. And then I always talk about 2003 -- the year we refused to go away.
Life is what you make it. And so are basketball seasons.