By CLAY HORNING
NORMAN — The Oklahoma women want to believe they’re a top 10 team. Unfortunately, every time they get a chance to prove it, they fail.
Against then-No. 4 Louisville, they gave up a six-point lead over the final 88 seconds before losing in overtime. Against a good-but-not-great UCLA team, they were just plain bad in an 82-76 loss in Los Angeles.
The latest chapter came Sunday afternoon at Lloyd Noble Center against No. 2 Duke. OU wasn’t supposed to win, yet nor was it supposed to play itself flat out of the game with a horrid first half.
The second-ranked Blue Devils beat the Sooners 94-85 and the remarkable thing was how easy OU made it for them.
In Sooner coach Sherri Coale’s estimation, her players missed some easy shots, had some things go wrong and before they knew it, were headed down a very bad path.
“We let it affect our psyche and it just started a downhill spiral,” she said. “That little spell in the first half when we turned it over, threw it out of bounds, kicked it out of bounds, threw it to them, was really the difference in the game.”
Duke never trailed, yet OU was within a point, 18-17, after point guard Morgan Hook’s layup 9:42 before the half. Between that moment and the moment Hook hit a running baseline jumper to beat the first half buzzer, the Blue Devils outscored the Sooners 28-8.
OU believes its issues were self-imposed. Duke believes it had plenty to do with it.
“We were making them work for all of their first half points,” said Duke guard Tricia Liston, who led the Blue Devils with 23 points, “and I think that kind of frustrated them a little bit.”
The rest of the game hardly mattered because of that one, dark 10-minute stretch, one that included most of OU’s 15 first-half turnovers and a bushel of empty possessions even when they weren’t turning it over..
The Sooners scored a fairly amazing 58 second-half points, yet it didn’t matter because they were never any closer than nine points until the final minute, when an Aaryn Ellenberg jumper made it 87-80 with 40 seconds remaining.
Until that point, the second half was a series of runs that brought the Sooners within nine points — the first time coming with 17:03 remaining, even afar trailing by 19 at the half — before falling back and mounting another charge.
“I saw it was nine at one point, but then we would shoot ourselves in the foot by doing something stupid,” Ellenberg said. “At that point you just have to play possession by possession and just try to get it as low as you can.”
Ellenberg led everybody with 28 points, but was ineffective as the Blue Devils built their lead, finishing the first half with seven points on 2 of 7 shooting to go with five turnovers. She finished 10 of 24 from the field, but only 4 of 16 from 3-point land.
Hook finished with more turnovers (5) than assists (4) for the first time this season, but was otherwise strong, making 8 of 9 shots, including 3 of 3 from 3-point land, and finishing with 24 points and four assists.
Sharane Campbell finished with 16 points and six rebounds. Nicole Griffin finished with 15 points and seven rebounds.
For Duke, Alexis Jones finished with 20 points and seven rebounds. Haley Peters added 18 points and Chelsea Gray added 17.
By the time it was over, after outscoring Duke by 10 points in the second half, OU had even become the first team to play the Blue Devils within 10 points.
The Sooners took no comfort.
“We cannot string together just one half. It needs to be from the beginning and right out of the gate,” Hook said, thinking of herself and Ellenberg. “We have to be those (senior) leaders that have to calm the storm and start it.”
Maybe next time.
OU women's basketball notebook
For the record: The 17th-ranked Oklahoma women fell 94-85 to Duke Sunday afternoon at Lloyd Noble Center. The Sooners fell to 6-3 on the season, while the second-ranked Blue Devils moved to 10-0. OU is the first team this season to play Duke within 10 points.
Too many turnovers: In the post game press conferences, Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said her turnover threshold is 10. More than that is too many. She wasn’t happy at all with 17 against the Sooners. OU, though, committed 21 and 15 of those in the first half when the Sooners played themselves out of the game. Worst of all, 11 of those 21 came from senior guards Aaryn Ellenberg and Morgan Hook. OU had been averaging 16.3 per game, ranking them 134th in the nation and sixth in the Big 12. The Sooners’ high turnover game for the season is 22 against Wichita State and their low is nine against UT-Arlington.
Where are the 3s: OU is supposed to be a good 3-point shooting team. Led by Ellenberg, the program’s career 3-point leader, shooting from distance is supposed to be a part of the Sooners’ identity. Sunday, Ellenberg made 4 of 16 3s and the Sooners made 7 of 23. For the season, Ellenberg has made 32 of 90 and the team has made 61 of 206 for percentages of 35.6 and 29.6. A year ago, against OU’s entire schedule, which includes the very tough Big 12 Conference, Ellenberg hit 41.4 percent of her 3-pointers and the team hit 36.6.
Tip-ins: The teams had played once before, when OU beat Duke 86-71 at the 2002 Final Four … Hook attempted six 2-point shots, three 3-point shots and five free throws. She made all but one two-point shot and her 24 points were a season-high … Kaylon Williams entered the starting lineup for the first time this season, leaving freshman Gioya Carter to come off the bench for OU.
Next: The Sooners will take finals this week before returning to the court at 2 p.m. Sunday, when they’ll meet Maryland-Eastern Shore at Lloyd Noble Center.