When Loryn Goodwin chose Oklahoma State as her fourth basketball program, she didn’t envision what happened Friday night inside Gallagher-Iba Arena.
The former point guard from North Texas, Butler and UTSA landed in Stillwater with her eye on the academics. But on Friday, she and her teammates made a statement for Cowgirl basketball program.
With a 87-72 blowout of No. 7 UCLA, in which Oklahoma State never trailed, the Cowgirls beat the highest ranked nonconference opponent since 1988.
“This is beyond any expectation that I ever had,” said an emotional Goodwin, who had a team-high 27 points for the Cowgirls. “It’s something I can’t even explain.”
The program has slowly been building toward this moment. One that five years from now could be looked back as the catalyst for going from simply a yearly NCAA qualifying program, to one of the national threats to unseat the blue bloods.
It’s no surprise it came Friday.
The Cowgirls have faced three top-15 opponents in the nonconference slate – losing the previous two to No. 12 Tennessee and No. 6 Mississippi State by a combined 13 points on either the road or a neutral site – and with the win against UCLA, are a combined plus-2 in point differential in those games.
While they are 1-2 in those – and had largely gone unnoticed by those voting for the women’s top 25 – the Cowgirls were competitive against programs that are perceived to be elites in women’s basketball.
“I think they’ve earned it,” UCLA coach Cori Close said. “… The bottom line is they’ve earned that now. You could tell their trajectory with what they were doing, but I think it’s dangerous to rely on rankings – they should never define how well your team is playing.”
But what Oklahoma State did is open the eyes of many across the country, and align itself for the future thanks to it’s past. When Jim Littell took over for his friend, the late Kurt Budke, he continued the vision Budke had set-forth with the Cowgirl program.
When he took the job at Oklahoma State, Budke stated the program would show “40 minutes of fight.”
That’s exactly what was on display Friday.
UCLA fought back with body blows throughout the second and third quarters. But Oklahoma State landed upper cuts whenever things looked dire.
Oklahoma State has done it before under Littell, with upsets of top-ranked opponents within the Big 12 Conference. But play an opponent enough times, and you are likely to pick up tendencies that you can exploit at the right time.
This win is different from those.
This is a victory that showcases the trajectory of not only this team, but of this program.
This is also the type of opponent Littell must continue to schedule to maintain that trajectory. If Oklahoma State is to become a name brand among women’s basketball – which it proved against UCLA that it is possible – it must prove itself every year against the nation’s best.
“It’s huge that we’ve come out with such high, intense energy in the (nonconference), so that people do recognize that we’re a force to be reckoned with,” Cowgirl senior center Kaylee Jensen said.
This is merely the beginning for this team and this program. The ceiling is limitless.
Jason Elmquist is sports editor of The Stillwater News Press. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.