STILLWATER — Last March, a trying Oklahoma State women's basketball season ended in triumph, with the Cowgirls hoisting the WNIT championship trophy and with Kurt Budke's widow, Shelley, cutting down the nets inside Gallagher-Iba Arena.
This season, coach Jim Littell said the team's motto is to build on that success and “raise the bar.”
“It's going to be awful hard for anybody to upend Baylor,” Littell said. “But who says we can't compete and line up and play with everybody else? We did that last year, and we've got everybody back.”
Littell's right, of course. The Cowgirls return all five starters from last season's team that was one of the “first four out” of the NCAA Tournament. OSU beat tournament participants like Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Iowa State, Texas and Kansas, but let close games slip away against Kansas (a 65-60 loss), Kansas State (53-50), and Missouri in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament (72-68).
Win one of those contests, and the Cowgirls likely would have made the Big Dance. It was a tough lesson to learn, point guard Tiffany Bias said.
“We weren't very mature to finish games,” she said. “I think we just kind of let them slide and gave up easy buckets or didn't accomplish plays when we needed to. I think this year we have a lot more maturity.
“We learn from our experiences, which a lot of them were not good experiences (last season), but they did make us stronger in the end.”
Now a squad that was considered young a season ago is suddenly a veteran group.
Bias returns as a dynamic playmaker and leader in the backcourt. Toni Young had a huge resurgence in the WNIT after spending most of last season working her way back from a broken arm. Reigning Big 12 Freshman of the Year Liz Donohoe is determined not to have a sophomore slump. Key contributors like Lindsey Keller, Kendra Suttles and Jordan Schultz also return.
Plus, the Cowgirls have added Brittney Martin, the highest-rated recruit to ever sign with OSU and a projected immediate starter at shooting guard.
OSU is ranked in both the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches' preseason polls but was picked to finish seventh in the Big 12. Littell said that's a testament to how tough the conference is.
Still, the Cowgirls nearly snuck into the NCAA Tournament a season ago while playing a similarly brutal schedule. Now, the goal is not just to make the field of 64, but to leave no doubt that they belong.
“We finished great last year,” Young said. “And I'm ready and really excited to keep building on that, because we're not gonna take any steps backwards.
“We want to just be guaranteed in (by the selection committee). No split decisions or anything.”
OSU WOMEN'S SCHEDULE
9 CAL POLY — 5:30 p.m.
13 at Missouri State — 7 p.m.
18 WEBER STATE — 2 p.m.
20 TEXAS PAN-AMERICAN — 7 p.m.
28 TEXAS STATE — 7 p.m.
1 TEXAS SOUTHERN — 2 p.m.
6 STEPHEN F. AUSTIN — 7 p.m.
16 VERMONT — 12:30 p.m.
22 at UT Arlington — 2 p.m.
28 vs. *Harvard — 9 a.m.
30 vs. *TBD
2 TEXAS TECH — 7 p.m.
6 at Baylor — 4:30 p.m.
8 KANSAS — 7 p.m.
13 at Texas — 11:30 a.m.
20 IOWA STATE — noon
23 at Kansas State — 7 p.m.
26 at Kansas — 8 p.m.
29 WEST VIRGINIA — 7 p.m.
2 BAYLOR — 7 p.m.
5 TCU — 7 p.m.
10 at Oklahoma — 4 p.m.
13 at West Virginia — 6 p.m.
16 KANSAS STATE — 4 p.m.
20 at TCU — 7 p.m.
23 OKLAHOMA — 2 p.m.
27 at Texas Tech — 7 p.m.
2 TEXAS — 11 a.m.
4 AT IOWA STATE — 7 p.m.
8-11 #Big 12 Tournament — TBD
* Surf N' Slam Classic, San Diego
# American Airlines Center, Dallas