By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
It’s no secret that the Oklahoma State University women’s basketball team had its fair share of struggles on the road last season.
But none of those games will compare to what the Cowgirls (1-0) will face in its road opener against Missouri State (0-0) at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Springfield, Mo.
“We’re going into a little bit of a lion’s den because they are hoisting the conference banner and they’re giving their players their Missouri Valley championship rings,” Oklahoma State coach Jim Littell said. “There’s going to be a lot of emotion in the arena for them. We just need to realize we’re going into a pretty tough place to play and we’ve got to play great basketball.”
History may be on Oklahoma State’s side, as the Cowgirls beat the Lady Bears twice last season — including a 70-57 win during the third round of the Women’s NIT. But both those wins came in the friendly confines of Gallagher-Iba Arena.
“I don’t know if revenge factor is a concern for us,” Littell said. “But we’re going to a place that’s very difficult place to play. They get great fan support in Springfield and it’s not uncommon for them to draw 8,000 to 10,000 people on any given night.”
The venue may be different this year, but that’s not the only change. Missouri State graduated three key players from last season’s roster, making game planning for the Lady Bears a little difficult for Littell and his staff.
“I don’t know how much (playing them last year) helps because their personnel has changed quite a bit,” Littell said. “They graduated three really good players, but have added a lot more athleticism and are very experienced in four or five other positions. Their scouting report is going to vary because of what they lost.”
One of the newer players Littell will be keeping an eye on is Missouri State junior Hannah Wilkerson. Wilkerson — who owns the Missouri high school scoring record for both boys and girls — sat out most of the 2011-12 season with an injury.
“She’s an excellent shooter and also has the ability to score off the dribble,” Littell said. “They had some people sit out last year and then they signed a freshman this year. Even though they lost some quality people, I think their squad and their chemistry probably improved in the last year.”
The Lady Bears may be a more talented bunch this season, but Littell said the biggest factor lies not in how much Missouri State has improved. Instead it’s how well the younger Cowgirls like freshman Brittney Martin handle the pressure of being away from home.
“You always wonder how they’re going to respond the first time that you go on the road, but this is part of the maturation process where they have got to learn to prepare going on the road and be able to play outside the confines of Gallagher-Iba,” Littell said. “It’s just a growing process for the young players to go play in a tough environment.”
Players like junior Tiffany Bias and sophomore Liz Donohoe started that process while taking a few lumps last year on the road. Now Littell hopes they take what they learned and use it to take the next step.
“We’re just looking for some consistency on both ends of the floor,” Littell said. “We hope that the experience we have and the returning players will help with that consistency. A lot of games in our league are determined by four to eight points, so we’re trying to do the little things right that will make you consistent and enable you to win games on the road.”