Sooners 'just have to go play' Monday
If there's one good thing about facing a team that's ranked No. 1, is the defending national champion and has won 64 games in a row well, leave it to Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale to find it.
It's this: As a foe, you don't have to put a whole lot of time into scouring film of UConn to try to pinpoint some exploitable weakness of the Huskies. Because, let's face it, there probably isn't any.
That doesn't mean Coale is approaching Monday's visit from UConn (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET) as a hopeless proposition. But it does mean that the Sooners will focus in Sunday's practice on what they need to do to play their best, and not really wrack their brains trying to locate an Achilles' heel for the mighty Huskies.
"I don't know that it's that important for me to have thought much about UConn, honestly," Coale said. "What are we going to do in one day to prepare for that game? Are we going to come up with a plan for who you don't have to guard on their team? I mean, come on.
"You have to go play, you can't beat yourself, and you can't be intimidated by the name on the front of their jersey. I don't know that it requires a great deal more thought. I know that sounds almost counterintuitive -- you'd think you would need all the prep time in the world for them. But I think you just have to go face them."
The Sooners made the Final Four last season but fell short of a national championship matchup with UConn when they lost in the semifinals to Louisville. OU lost the Paris twins, Courtney and Ashley, to graduation, and then lost sophomore Whitney Hand to an ACL injury in November.
Yet the Sooners are in second place in the Big 12 at 8-3, getting wins this past week over Baylor (62-60 in overtime Wednesday) and Colorado (65-55 Saturday). Meanwhile, the Huskies moved to 25-0 (12-0 Big East) with their 66-52 victory Saturday against St. John's.
Coale already has been asked a lot about UConn's streak and how that impacts the way fans look at the sport. She said that her focus has to be on what her team needs to do to compete in the Big 12, so she really doesn't dwell on the big picture that includes the Huskies.
"I know the public perception might be there isn't parity because UConn has been unblemished for so long," she said. "If I were to step out of the bubble I have to be in for the entire season, I would probably be frustrated by it.
"But because I'm in the bubble and see how good every team we play every night is, I don't spend any time thinking about it."
Coale has lost all seven previous meetings with UConn; the closest her Sooners got, actually, was their 12-point defeat in the 2002 NCAA championship game. That UConn team went undefeated.
Coale might have more than one unbeaten foe to worry about this season. Nine days after the Sooners host UConn, they will get a visit from Nebraska. The Huskers are 23-0 overall and 12-0 in the Big 12 after escaping Missouri with a come-from-behind 82-78 victory Saturday. Nebraska will have home games with Iowa State and Colorado between now and its trip to Norman, Okla., on Feb. 24.
So Oklahoma will end up being the best metric for comparing the Huskies and Huskers in terms of where those teams stand going into March. Well, not like we really need any more data on UConn to make a judgment on the Huskies' postseason odds. But Nebraska, which has never made it further than the second round of the NCAA tournament in program history, is still being evaluated by the women's hoops world.
Provided the Huskers don't have some bizarre, almost unimaginable collapse, they are going to win the Big 12 regular-season title for the first time and Connie Yori will deserve to be the league's coach of the year.
But Coale's performance, with OU having lost three starters because of graduation or injury, has been one of the best of her 14-season career. Four Sooners -- Danielle Robinson (17.0 ppg), Nyeshia Stevenson (14.0), Amanda Thompson (12.0) and Abi Olajuwon (10.7) -- have started every game and are all averaging in double figures in scoring. Carlee Roethlisberger stepped in to replace Hand as a starter, and she's averaging 8.0 points.
Whatever happens against UConn, the Sooners won't fret about it. Because next will be a trip to Kansas State. And even in a down season, the Wildcats already have defeated or scared enough Big 12 teams to worry the remainder of their league foes.
Coale sees the matchup with UConn as a little like playing with house money. No one expects the Sooners to win, and a loss to UConn can't damage their postseason position.
"There's not a lot to ponder with them," Coale said. "You just have to go play."
Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at email@example.com. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.