Whitney Hand returning from surgeries
NORMAN, Okla. -- After more than a year away, Whitney Hand is set to return for Oklahoma (No. T-14 ESPN/USA Today, No. 15 AP).
A key player in Oklahoma's first of two straight Final Four runs as a freshman, Hand has missed 13 months after tearing a ligament in her right knee and then having a follow-up operation on cartilage damage.
She's expected to play Sunday when the Sooners (10-2) play at TCU (7-6) in her hometown of Fort Worth, Texas.
"I think you have to think it's going to go good," Hand said. "It's been 401 days since I played. I've never done that before since I was 6.
"It's a weird feeling to get to play again. The best thing is I get to be on the court."
Hand averaged 13.4 points and shot 38 percent from 3-point range in only five games last season, then tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee at a tournament over Thanksgiving weekend was sidelined as the Sooners went back to the Final Four without her.
The year before, she averaged 9.2 points and was a provided an outside threat to space the floor for All-America center Courtney Paris to operate inside.
"She's playing with the same amount of confidence and exuberance that you guys remember from her freshman year," coach Sherri Coale said. "It'll take a while, for all of us, for us to have continuity with her, especially when you run a motion offense that is based so much on spacing and timing. Getting acclimated with a new person takes a little bit of time."
Coale said Hand's bigger challenge might be on the defensive end, where she'll be forced to react to opponents instead of being in charge of where she goes. She'll have to get integrated just as the Sooners start conference play. After facing TCU, Oklahoma opens Big 12 play on Jan. 8 at Nebraska.
"Whitney is an incredible confident kid," Coale said. "She'll figure it out as fast as anybody ever has."
Hand said she's naturally apprehensive about playing for the first time after being out for so long, but she's feeling no pain since returning to practice and there aren't any concerns about the stability of her knee.
Coale said she'll play Hand "as much as I need to play her."
"I don't know if I'm going to start, be the first person off the bench, be the last person off that bench. It doesn't matter," Hand said. "My main concern is how my knee feels and if I'm ready."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press