Stillwater News Press

November 21, 2013

Oklahoma State women face first big test against USC

By Nick Snow

STILLWATER, Okla. — Oklahoma State women’s basketball coach Jim Littell doesn’t believe in so-called statement games. For him, every game is a chance for his team to make a statement and prove its one of the best teams in the country.

But there are some games that weigh a little bit more than others when it comes to NCAA tournament selection, something Littell experienced first-hand in his first season.

Perhaps that’s why Friday’s game against Southern California is so important.

“It is (a statement game),” Oklahoma State senior guard Tiffany Bias said. “I think they’re a great team. They’re not ranked yet, but they are a totally different team from last year. We watched film on them (Wednesday) and they have a lot of threats. They match up pretty well with us so this is going to be an exciting game for everybody.”

After opening the season by beating teams by an average of 32.75 points per game — including a 29-point snoozer of Idaho State Monday and a 36-point thrashing of Northern Colorado Saturday — the Cowgirls (4-0) will finally get their first true test of the season against the Trojans (3-0) at 7 p.m. Friday in Gallagher-Iba Arena.

“We felt like we had four starters coming back and we needed to raise the bar a little bit,” Littell said of scheduling the Pac-12 opponent. “We’ve got a lot of quality games coming with USC and then playing North Texas ... We bit off quite a bit, but I think it will make us better for Big 12 play.

“I don’t know if it’s a statement game. I know it’s a challenge and we’re going to have to up our game from where we’ve been. This is a very athletic team that can score in a lot of different ways. It’s just a big challenge for us and we need that at this point in the season.”

The Trojans haven’t exactly been a powerhouse in the Pac-12 over the past few years, going 11-20 last season.

But this isn’t the same old USC team. Nor is it the one the Cowgirls beat by 30 points the last time the Trojans visited Stillwater 18 years ago.

This team has the size inside and athletes outside that could give the Cowgirls fits. On top of that, USC is coached by former WNBA star Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, who has already turned around Prairie View A&M, UNC Wilmington and Texas Southern programs in her eight-year coaching career.

“They’ve got Cassie Harberts, whose on the Wooden list,” Littell said. “She’s very skilled inside and has the ability to use either hand inside then step out to 12 to 15 feet. She has good moves and can put it on the floor. This will be the biggest challenge we’ve had as far as guarding the post and this is by far the best guard we’ve played.”

Trying to slow down USC’s post game may be a big key to Oklahoma State’s success, but the one area that has Littell concerned the most is Oklahoma State’s recent turnover problems.

Over the last two games, the Cowgirls have turned the ball over 32 times and have yet to keep the turnovers to single-digits — something Oklahoma State did four times last season.

“We have yet to put it all together on both sides of the ball,” Littell said. “... The last couple games we’ve had 17 and 15 turnovers, which won’t work against the caliber of team’s we’re getting ready to play.”

In fact, minimizing turnovers has been a sticking point for Littell and the Cowgirls this week in practice, especially with the caliber of athletes that the Trojans have.

“It’s just about decision making,” Bias said. “You have to be sure of your pass and being sure of the shot that you have. Turnovers are one thing that we can fix, so I think that it’s going to be an easy fix for us by just making sure that the pass is there and not forcing things.”

And while most coaches will agree that it might be a little too early to start thinking about the big dance — considering Oklahoma State still has to battle its way through a brutal Big 12 schedule — Bias and company know a win could get the ball rolling with the likes of ranked teams Georgia Tech and Michigan State looming in the not too distant future.

“It’s very important for us to get this win on Friday and to just keep building on that and keep building our offense and defense,” Bias said. “Every game is a step up, so we can’t take days off. We have to learn how to be focused and be more disciplined, knowing that every game is going to be a big game for us.”