NORMAN, Okla. (AP) – Nicole Griffin turned it on in the second half for Oklahoma, and it turned out the 13th ranked Sooners needed every bit of her 15 points and nine rebounds to survive a spirited North Texas squad, defeating the Mean Green 71-68 on Thursday night.
Although the Sooners earned the victory, they were forced to watch one of their leaders go down with an injury in the first half.
Whitney Hand injured her left knee on a drive to the basket with 1:50 left in the first half. She was helped off the court by the training staff and her husband, Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones, met her at the entrance to the tunnel which connects to the locker room.
Team spokesman Jared Thompson said an MRI revealed that Hand tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee.
“We’re devastated for Whitney. Nobody loves to play basketball any more than Whitney Hand,” Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said.
Hand played on Oklahoma’s Final Four team in 2008-2009 and missed most of the following season — and another Final Four run — after tearing her anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee.
Hand ranks among the top 20 scorers in school history. One of three team captains, she was the second-leading scorer (12.1 ppg) and top rebounder (7.5 rpg) on this year’s team.
“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, really hard for all of us to accept and understand,” Coale said. “But I will promise you this: That group of warriors that finished the game are going to show up and fight their tails off every time we play. I guarantee you they are.”
The Sooners have lost two other players to season-ending injuries with Kaylon Williams rupturing her left Achilles tendon before the season and Maddie Manning tearing her ACL last week.
“Every time a player goes down with an injury, there’s a grieving period and it’s not for your basketball team. It’s because one of your friends is hurt, one of your sisters is in pain and facing surgery and not getting to do the thing they love doing more than anything else on the planet. There is this immediate adrenaline and then reality sets in. It’ll be a tough week,” Coale said.
At halftime, Coale said her team didn’t talk much basketball, just about having character and playing as hard as you can.
“All things happen for a reason we don’t understand. But we have an extraordinary opportunity right now to just be a story, be a great story,” Coale said.
Back on the court in the second half, Griffin had scored only three points in the first 20 minutes of play but set the tone after the break, going 9 for 10 from the free-throw line, eight of which she made in the second half.
Oklahoma cashed in from the free-throw line in the second half, hitting 27 of 35 attempts, and was 30 of 40 overall. North Texas was 9 of 13 from the line in the entire game.
Three other players were in double figures for the Sooners, including Joanna McFarland, who had a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Morgan Hook had 12 points and Sharane Campbell chipped in with 11.
Alexis Hyder scored 15 points and had 12 rebounds in the loss for North Texas (2-6, 1-0 Sun Belt).
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