By Jason Elmquist
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Oklahoma State University learned a hard, but possibly valuable lesson on its weeklong trip to the state of Kansas.
The No. 19 Cowgirls fell to a Kansas State team in the bottom third of the Big 12 Conference standings, before rebounding with a blowout of the University of Kansas on Saturday.
“You better play every night out. You better never take a night off, because anybody in this league — maybe other than Baylor — can beat anybody on a given night,” OSU women’s basketball coach Jim Littell said. “K-State came in, played very loose, very confident, shot the ball extremely well. When somebody is lighting you up like that, hitting 16 3-pointers on you, you’ve almost got to be perfect on the other end.”
Littell will find out if that lesson has sunk in with his players when the Cowgirls (15-3, 4-3 in Big 12) host West Virginia at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Gallagher-Iba Arena. While the Mountaineers may maintain a 3-5 conference record — similar to that of K-State — WVU has been in every one of its conference contests in its first year in the league.
“They’ve played Baylor closer than anybody and then their four (other) losses are by a combined 12 points,” Littell said. “Most of those, even though they were 4-point games, most of them came down to a last-second possession where they could have scored, didn’t and had to give up free throws.
“So they’ve lost four games on one-possession games, so the record is very misleading. It’s a team that could very well be 7-1 right now.”
Perhaps a battle-tested team in West Virginia shouldn’t be much of a surprise. After all, before joining the Big 12 the Mountaineers had to face the likes of powerhouse programs Connecticut and Notre Dame while a member of the Big East.
“They played against UConn twice last year and Notre Dame twice. They’re not going to come in here and be intimidated by any stretch of the imagination,” Littell said. “... I equate them to a Texas A&M type of a team, very physical and they are going to come in and really scratch and claw and fight and do everything they can to get back on track.”
The Mountaineers have three players averaging double digits in scoring, led by guards Christal Caldwell (12.6 points per game) and Taylor Palmer (11.5). They also have quite a post presence in center Ayana Dunning, a senior listed at 6-foot-3 who is averaging 10.3 points per game and a team-high 6.3 rebounds a contest.
“Caldwell and Palmer are really good players, but Palmer shoots more three and Caldwell’s more off the dribble,” Littell said. “... (Dunning) is very strong and physical inside that also steps out and shoots the three and has a good mid-range game.”
With WVU’s ability to score in the paint — having scored 26 points in the paint against Brittney Griner’s Baylor team — the Cowgirls will have to focus on protecting both the paint and the perimeter with Caldwell and Palmer averaging a combined 35 percent from 3-point range.
“Their guards are a little bit bigger than what we’re used to and their posts are very physical and big girls,” center Lindsey Keller said. “... Their guards are drivers and the post needs to be aware of that. But I think our guards are going to be able to slow down the dribble drive and they always know they have us for help. That is kind of our weak spot, but I think we’re going to be OK.”