By CLAY HORNING
NORMAN — Having it doesn’t mean it’s necessarily maintained. It can’t be mandated nor picked up in St. John Arena and brought to Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Still, the Sooners have it right now. And right now, that’s all they can ask for.
What is it?
Some call it the zone.
“We call it the ‘It’ factor,” Oklahoma women’s basketball coach Sherri Coale said.
And it doesn’t come around very often.
You can win big games without it. You can play so collectively hard that you overcome not having it. You might even, if everything falls just right, find a way to upset Tennessee in the Oklahoma City Regional semifinal at 3:35 p.m. Sunday without it.
Still, it’s much better to have it than not have it.
It makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts. Call it cohesion or chemistry, focus or being dialed in, it’s the synchronicity of urgency and purpose the Sooners put on display in their 85-72 victory over UCLA Monday night in Columbus, Ohio.
“They’ve been really good. Even when they’ve not been good, they’ve been good together,” Coale said. “There’s an energy that’s circulating among them … That synergy that we saw in the UCLA game, I have seen on a constant basis since we’ve gotten home.”
Coale didn’t want to put a number on how many times she’s seen it since taking over the Sooner program, but said “it is rare” and one time her team had it was on its run to the 2002 national championship game.
“We caught it at the Big 12 tournament (that year) and we had it until we lost to Connecticut in the championship,” she said. “To the final buzzer, we had it.”
A couple other times OU might have had it?
Probably at the 2004 Big 12 tournament, when they became the only team ever to win without a first-round bye, topping Texas A&M, Colorado, Kansas State and Texas back-to-back-to-back-to-back on four straight days. And maybe during the 2005-06 regular season, when they went 16-0 in the conference, the freshman seasons of Courtney and Ashley Paris.
It had OU playing at its highest level of the season during the second half of its victory over the Bruins.
After the half, the Sooners scored 43 points, committed only three turnovers, earned an amazing 30 attempts from the free-throw line and, after UCLA tied the game 45-45 with 16:59 remaining, the Sooners were back up 11 points less than 6 minutes later and never allowed the Bruins any closer than nine.
“It’s just everybody dialed in,” senior forward Joanna McFarland said. “It’s everybody focusing on what we’re doing, each time we’re doing it. We don’t have to stop and tell somebody something multiple times … You mess up once, but it’s not happening again. Everybody’s just really focused and it’s really fun.”
Coale’s not even sure how you go about keeping it, though she’s pretty sure trying to strangle it to hold onto it is a surefire way of losing it.
“I think you let it go,” she said. “You sort of shepherd it, but you let it go.”
Then hope it doesn’t leave.
“We’re all really on the same page,” shooting guard Aaryn Ellenberg said. “Our connectedness to each other and wanting to stay together is really what’s driving us this time around.”
The Sooners will have to hope that’s enough to keep it going. It would be a shame to let it go now.
“I don’t think it’s the kind of thing you can have for 30 games. I really don’t,” Coale said. “So, we’ll see if we can maintain it this weekend.”
Everything may depend on it.