Big 12 Campus Correspondent
On a cold December afternoon in Columbus, Ohio, the University of Oklahoma women's basketball team fell to the No. 6 Ohio State Buckeyes, 95-84.
Many would consider it hard to get excited about the first loss of the season. Perhaps it was still hard to swallow for supporters of the Oklahoma Sooners, but few could come away completely discouraged after one of the most spectacular individual performances in Oklahoma history.
The Sooners saw an offensive explosion from guard Aaryn Ellenberg, who scored 34 points in her 34 minutes of action, including a program-record 22 points in the first half.
The guard from Las Vegas came two points shy of the school record for most points in a game, set by Oklahoma great Courtney Paris. It's safe to say that she would've broken the record if her playing time wasn't limited due to foul trouble in the second half.
Ellenberg's 34-point performance stands out in Oklahoma history, especially coming on the road against a top-six team.
But the guard's scoring spectacle stands out even more when you consider one last factor.
She's a freshman.
And she's piecing together one of the best freshman years in Oklahoma history.
Outside of her dominant performance against Ohio State (which earned her Big 12 Freshman of the Week honors), Ellenberg's performance from behind the 3-point arc has already etched her name into the OU record book.
Ellenberg is the first Sooner to make a 3-pointer in the first 11 consecutive games of her career and the first to make two or more 3-pointers in nine consecutive games.
As of December 20, Ellenberg ranked third in the Big 12 for made 3-point shots, three buckets behind fellow OU freshman Morgan Hook. She was also eighth in the Big 12 in total points, the highest of any freshman in the conference.
"She doesn't make a big deal out of things," OU head coach Sherri Coale said. "She just goes out and scores 34 points. Her way is effortless, which is very attractive. It's attractive to teammates because they want to play with her. It's attractive to fans because they want to watch it."
"There's an effortlessness about her athleticism that enables her to compete without ever looking like it," Coale said. "She's never going to be a player that you're just in awe of because of how smooth she is. It looks so easy. For most of the regular world it's really hard to make the shots she does, but when she plays it looks so simple."
But it wasn't always so easy for Ellenberg. In fact, it wasn't until the end of middle school that she even considered herself to be a decent player.
"I wasn't that good in middle school," said Ellenberg. "You could say I was an athlete, I was an athletic kid. I just didn't have the skill set for basketball yet."
At that point, it would've been easy to give up on the game. Ellenberg could've stopped playing competitive basketball and focused on academics, friends or her other sport, softball, but she was motivated by her love for the game to keep at it.
"I didn't want to quit," Ellenberg said. "I didn't really have a single motivation why. I just liked playing."
Through extra time in the gym and the help of her coach, Ellenberg began to improve.
"It's all about getting in the gym," she said. "You need to get shots up to get better. My club coach really took the time to work with me. He wanted to take the time each day to work with me on different things."
Ellenberg's game continued to evolve and place her in the starting lineup for Bishop Gorman H.S. for all four years and eventually into Sherri Coale's lineup at Oklahoma.
"When we got news in August that we wouldn't have Whitney Hand for the first half of the season, it was not something we'd been planning for," said Coale. "Immediately we knew that someone had to assume a scoring responsibility to make up for the void of Whitney. Not only had we lost three seniors, but now we didn't have her as well."
The Sooners, coming off of back-to-back Final Four appearances, needed an offensive spark to keep hope alive for a third straight trip.
"There was an offensive abyss there and someone had to fill it," said Coale.
Searching for a bright spot in the Oklahoma offense, Coale looked to the City of Lights for her next star shooter.
"When Aaryn immediately began to score and make baskets, everyone else seemed to relax. As a result, we've progressed a lot in Whitney's absence, so when we get Whitney back after Christmas we'll be that much further along."
Ellenberg, selfless by nature, isn't satisfied by the records she has set in her first 11 games of college ball. She continues to spend extra hours in the gym en route to meeting her collegiate goal.
"I want to be one of the best players to come out of the University of Oklahoma," said the freshman.
With so much more room to grow, Ellenberg's push of progression on the Sooner basketball team will last much longer than her fill-in role for Hand.
"For a program I think it tells us we're going to score a lot of points for a long time," said Coale. "I'm not satisfied with Aaryn's performance because I know her potential is so great. Once she learns to play hard on both sides of the court for 40 minutes...it could be scary."