NORMAN, Okla. — 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.
Oklahoma (8-1) guard 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 that connects to the locker room.
“We’re devastated for Whitney. Nobody loves to play basketball any more than Whitney Hand. I’ve never met a kid who loves to compete and play this game more than Whitney,” Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said.
Hand, a Liberty Christian product, played on Oklahoma’s Final Four team in 2008-09 and missed most of the following season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee.
“The fact that she is denied that and has to endure again is really, really hard for all of us to accept and understand. 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,” Coale said.
Alexis Hyder scored 15 points and had 12 rebounds in the loss for North Texas (2-6, 1-0 Sun Belt).
Fouls ultimately doomed the Mean Green’s upset bid. Oklahoma cashed in from the free throw line in the second half, hitting 27 of 35 attempts and finishing 30-of-40 overall.
North Texas was 9-of-13 from the line in the game.
With seven minutes left in the first half, a Hannah Christian 3-pointer gave North Texas the lead. With 3 minutes remaining, BreAnna Dawkins’ steal led to an easy Christian layup to make UNT’s lead 27-23.
UNT led 30-27 at halftime after hitting 38.5 percent of its shots from long range and posting a 15-7 advantage in bench points.
With 11 minutes left in the game, OU took its first lead of the second half with a pair of free throws.
Laura McCoy later hit a 3-pointer to push UNT’s lead to 57-53.
The Mean Green worked its way into foul trouble, an issue that allowed OU to tie the game at 59 with three minutes left.
With two minutes remaining, Christian hit two free throws to cut the Oklahoma lead to two.
Down by four, UNT’s Loryn Goodwin hit a 3 with 14 seconds left. OU then hit one of two free throws, giving North Texas one last chance with a two-point deficit.
A Mean Green miss was rebounded by the Sooners, who hit one more free throw.
The Sooners have lost two other players to season-ending injuries, with Kaylon Williams rupturing her left achilles tendon and Maddie Manning tearing her ACL.
“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 hard.
“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 set the tone, making eight free throws.
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.
The Mean Green now gets a 12-day break until a Dec. 18 meeting with Texas-Arlington at the Super Pit.