By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
It’s been a week since the Oklahoma State women’s basketball team last battled against anyone besides themselves. And while most teams don’t get too excited about a weeklong break, the timing couldn’t have come at a better time for the Cowgirls.
“We needed it,” Oklahoma State coach Jim Littell said. “We were pretty beat up and we needed to take care of some physical things. I think from that perspective, the week off helped us quite a bit.”
Now rested and healthy, Oklahoma State (13-2, 2-2 in Big 12) hopes that break pays off beginning with a crucial matchup against No. 24 Iowa State at noon Sunday in Gallagher-Iba Arena.
“It’s a pretty big game for us,” Oklahoma State senior forward Lindsey Keller said. “It’s like coach (Bill) Annan said in practice, it’s going to be a respect game. This is going to determine where we end up — in the middle or at the top. We want to be at the top. We want to put forth a great effort. ... We’re all excited, we’re ready to play and refocused. Everyone is rested up. Obviously this game is really big. We need to get this win. We’re determined and we’re ready to get out and play some basketball.”
Getting a win over Iowa State (13-2, 4-1 in Big 12) is a little bit easier said than done, however. The Cyclones are giving up 50.7 points per game and holding their opponents to 31.4 percent from the field.
“Other than Baylor, they’re the best defensive team in the conference,” Littell said. “They force you to make shots and we have to make sure that we’re hitting open shots. What they do so well defensively is they take away all easy shots. They do a good job defending inside and they play their defense based on percentages. They’re going to leave some people open for some shots. When you’re a Division I player, you have to step up and make some shots.”
Oklahoma State hasn’t had any trouble scoring points this season, averaging 62 points in its first four conference games and 81.3 points per game overall.
But the big key will be if the Cowgirls can stop the Iowa State duo of Hallie Christofferson and Chelsea Poppens. Christofferson leads the team with 14.5 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, while Poppens is nearly averaging a double-double with 12.6 points and 9.7 rebounds per game.
“She’s a shooter and she’s driving a lot more,” Keller said. “She has more of an inside and outside game. That’s going to be a tough one to stop, but I feel like we have our game plan in order and our coaches know what they’re doing.”
“You can’t key on any of their people because they score at all five positions,” Littell said. “They throw four people on the perimeter that can all make threes and they’re shooting a high percentage from three. Almost half their attempts are from three and then they have a very proven and outstanding post position player in Poppens. You can’t leave anybody unguarded at all.”
If there is one advantage for the Cowgirls, it’s that they had an entire week to prepare for the Cyclones — led largely by Oklahoma State Director of Player Development Jack Easley, who was the associate head coach at Iowa State for the past nine seasons.
“It was kind of funny because he knew all the offenses,” Keller said. “We know it’s an important game to him, too. He was there for so long and it will mean a lot to him. He’s definitely helped us out and showed us a couple of things that we hadn’t seen before. He told us they’re a detail orientated team and they’re not going to quit. You have to go out there, play every minute and take a win from them.”
Taking a win from the Cyclones would be huge — especially with a pair of road games in Kansas next week. And after getting two big wins over Kansas, and Texas in Austin — something the Cowgirls haven’t done since 2009 — the Cowgirls are hoping to build momentum for the rest of the season.
“A win is a win, but just like a loss you just have to realize that’s the past,” Keller said. “It’s about being consistent and that’s what we want to do. ... Iowa State isn’t Texas or KU. They have different strengths and weaknesses. We have to focus on what they do and what we do best and just go out there and play our game.”