Sherri Coale was blunt about the way she wanted Oklahoma to attack Oklahoma State in Sunday's Bedlam women's basketball showdown.
“Go right at Toni Young,” the Sooner coach said. “See if we can get her in foul trouble.”
Less than six minutes into the game, Young was whistled for her second foul and went to the bench for the rest of the first half.
Coale had plenty of reason to believe that game plan would work. Foul trouble has haunted the Cowgirls' leading scorer and rebounder throughout Big 12 play, particularly in all four of OSU's non-Baylor conference losses.
Staying under control will be key for Young Wednesday night against a physical West Virginia squad in a critical game for an OSU team that has lost four of its last six contests and is suddenly flirting with “bubble” status for the NCAA Tournament.
“It's frustrating, because I hate sitting on the bench,” Young said. “I can't do anything for my team on the sideline but cheer for them. I feel like it affects my team a lot when I'm not on the floor.”
Young's absence for the majority of the first half against OU didn't necessarily impact the Cowgirls on the scoreboard, as they led for most of the period and were down just 31-28 at the break.
But perhaps if Young had been on the floor, OSU would have been able to take better advantage of the Sooners' poor shooting start. Much of the Cowgirls' offense is designed to get Young the ball, and with her largely out of the game, Tiffany Bias and Liz Donohoe made just three of 12 field goals in the first half.
Additionally, Young sitting on the bench caused the Cowgirls to play reserves like LaShawn Jones more minutes than they're accustomed to, which coach Jim Littell believes impacted OSU during the Sooners' second-half scoring outburst.
“It changes the dynamics of how we play,” Littell said.
Young's foul trouble has become arguably the most common theme in the Cowgirls' Big 12 losses.
Against Texas Tech, a double-digit OSU lead turned into a five-point deficit after Young picked up her second foul midway through the first half and sat until the break. Then, she fouled out in the final two minutes of a game the Cowgirls lost 64-59.
Against Kansas State, Young picked up her fourth foul with about eight minutes remaining in the second half of a 76-70 overtime defeat.
Against West Virginia, two fouls limited Young to just two points in 11 minutes in the first half, but she scored 13 points in a full 20 minutes of the second half. OSU lost 67-61.
Littell knows fouls will naturally happen throughout the course of the game, but stressed there's a difference between an effort foul and a silly foul. Young also admits she sometimes lets her emotions take over on the floor, which can lead to frustration fouls.
Coale's Bedlam strategy suggests Young now has a reputation as a player who will foul early and often. That means other opponents in the regular season's final month are also likely to try to force her to the bench early.
And Young is the ultimately the only person who can make sure she stays on the floor.
“There's going to be some hustle fouls, but there's going to be some fouls that you take yourself out of the game,” Littell said. “I believe great players never take themselves out of a game.
“You never saw (Michael) Jordan, LeBron (James), those guys in foul trouble and (taking) themselves out of a game.”
No. 25 Oklahoma State at West Virginia
*When: 6 p.m. Wednesday
*Where: WVU Coliseum, Morgantown, W.Va.
*Radio: KGFY-FM 105.5
Three things to know
*West Virginia won the first meeting between these two squads, 67-61 in Stillwater. This is OSU's first trip to Morgantown.
*Tiffany Bias is two steals away from becoming the third player in school history to reach 1,000 points, 500 assists and 200 steals.
*West Virginia has won three of its last four games and leads the conference in 3-point field-goal percentage defense (26.8 percent).