By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
One look in an Oklahoma State women’s basketball team’s practice and you might not think that four days ago the Cowgirls were hoisting the Surf ‘N Slam Classic trophy.
But before the dust has had the chance to settle on the latest piece of hardware, the Cowgirls quest for another trophy begins at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Gallagher-Iba Arena when Oklahoma State plays host to Texas Tech in the Big 12 opener.
“I’m really excited because I think our team has come a long way,” Oklahoma State senior forward Toni Young said. “We’ve worked a lot over the last few months and now we’re getting a lot harder competition. We’re just ready to show the world that we are a good team.”
Make no mistake, the country knows that the No. 13th-ranked Cowgirls (11-0) have some talent. They lead the country with 88.4 points per game and 21.4 assists per game.
All of that makes for a pretty big bull’s-eye for the Texas Tech (10-2) — a team that prides itself on defense.
“We have to play smart,” Oklahoma State coach Jim Littell said. “I think other than probably Baylor, they’re the best defensive team in the Big 12. They’re very athletic and they create a mismatch problem for us because they play four guards. One of our post players is going to have to guard a quick, athletic guard. But we also create some for them because that means one of their guards is going to have to guard one of our post players.”
Getting production out of the post hasn’t been a problem lately for the Cowgirls. Young scored a pair of double-doubles — including a 30-point performance against San Diego State during the championship in San Diego.
Dominating in a tournament is one thing. Battling against some of the best players in the country night-in and night-out is another.
“I just pretty much have to stay focused and let that give me my momentum into the rest of this season,” Young said. “I think my team and (Tiffany Bias) has gotten really good at reading me. Our guards get us the ball and we just have to finish.”
That’s not to say the trip to San Diego won’t help Oklahoma State down the road. San Diego State had the size and strength similar to a lot of Big 12 teams.
“It helped a lot because (San Diego State) was pretty much like playing in a Big 12 game,” Young said. “They were a really good team. They had a lot of good players and in the Big 12 you never have a day off. There’s always good players.”
Oklahoma State may be riding high after bringing home a tournament title, but Littell is quick to remind them that the Cowgirls are 0-0 in the only record that matters — conference play.
“You hope that there’s a confidence level after doing that, but really that doesn’t mean anything right now,” Littell said. “It’s a new ballgame against different competition. It’s just a whole different intensity level for all teams once you start Big 12 play. It’s time to turn the page from that tournament and the nonconference and it’s time to start focusing on the Big 12.”
At times the Cowgirls struggled with that focus in Tuesday’s practice, but don’t expect that to be the case Wednesday.
Texas Tech has won three of the last four games against the Cowgirls, with Oklahoma State’s lone win against Tech coming last season in Stillwater. On top of that, before the season began the Cowgirls were picked to finish in the bottom half of the league — making for an explosive combination.
“We’re always the underdogs and no one really expects us to come out on top,” Young said. “But we believe in ourselves and work just as hard as any other team around the nation. We’re hoping to show that in the Big 12.”
Now would be a better time than any with a trips to No. 3 Baylor and Texas — along with a home game against the No. 23 Kansas — looming in the next two weeks.
“They’re all tough,” Littell said. “When you play Baylor second, it makes the first game that much more important. We’re not worried past Tech because they’re a good team. They’re 10-2 and they’ve lost on the road to New Mexico and in overtime to a very good Michigan State team at a neutral site. They’ve played well and they’ve played a solid schedule and I know coach Curry will have her team ready so we can’t start looking past them.”
As the Cowgirls put the nation’s longest win streak on the line heading into Big 12 play, the Cowgirls have been all business since returning from San Diego. Now the question is whether or not they can take care of business at home in the Big 12.
“It would be a great start to get a win against a quality team like Texas Tech,” Littell said. “It’d mean that took care of your business at home, which you need to do to be successful in this league. Every game carries great importance, but every game at home is even more important.”