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Morning After Blog: Breaking down Oklahoma State’s WNIT run

Gina Mizell Published: April 1, 2012

(Yes, I’m stealing this title from recently departed OU football writer Travis Haney. I hope he doesn’t mind.)

Yesterday’s WNIT championship win for the Oklahoma State women’s basketball team was about so much more than basketball, and I wrote it as such in my story in Sunday’s Oklahoman.

But understandably lost in the shuffle of such an emotional win–and journey–was just how well the Cowgirls played during the WNIT. So let’s look purely at basketball for a bit and break down this postseason run for the Cowgirls.

Team accomplishments

The Cowgirls finished the season winning nine of their last 10 games. They won their final three regular season-games to get back into consideration for the NCAA Tournament, then lost its Big 12 Tournament opener against Missouri, then won six in a row to capture the WNIT title.

This WNIT run was the latest OSU has ever played into March, surpassing its NCAA Sweet 16 run in 2008. The Cowgirls’ final game that season against LSU was played on March 29.

OSU’s 18 home victories set a school record.

Jim Littell finished the season with 21 victories as head coach, the first OSU coach to accomplish that in their first season.

OSU never trailed in the second half of the WNIT.

Terrific trio

OSU’s core of point guard Tiffany Bias and posts Liz Donohoe and Toni Young simply dominated in the WNIT. Young was named the tournament MVP, while Donohoe was named to the All-Tournament team. Bias, honestly, deserved to be on the All-Tournament team, as well. She was on my ballot.

Coming into the WNIT, here are those players’ season averages:
Bias: 12.7 points, 6.5 assists, 3.2 rebounds, 2.5 steals per game
Donohoe: 12.3 points, 7.1 rebounds per game
Young: 10.0 points, 6.7 rebounds, 0.8 blocks per game

WNIT averages:
Bias: 15 points, 7.8 assists, 3.0 rebounds, 2.2 steals per game
Donohoe: 17 points, 11 rebounds per game
Young: 20.7 points, 8.7 rebounds, 2.0 blocks per game

Final season averages:
Bias: 13.1 points, 6.7 assists, 3.1 rebounds, 2.5 steals per game
Donohoe: 13.1 points, 7.8 rebounds per game
Young: 12.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.0 blocks per game

Young’s performance was absolutely worthy of being the WNIT MVP, but Donohoe’s continued development may be the most important long-term. Five of the Big 12 Freshman of the Year’s eight double-doubles on the season came in her final five contests. That’s huge for her confidence level. And Bias is going to be a star in the Big 12 the next two seasons.

“We opened it up a little bit more and trusted (Bias) to really cut loose and play like she’s capable of playing,” Littell said. “She’s got a big motor. And then we also, at the same time, about a month and a half ago made a conscious effort (to get) good balance between inside and outside game and going to (Young). …Liz had a great WNIT tournament and she just continues to amaze me.”

Other nuggets:

With her 11 assists Saturday, Bias broke the OSU single-season record of 220 held by Andrea Riley. Bias finished with 229.

OSU shot 46.7 percent from the field in the WNIT, well above its regular-season mark of 38.6 percent. The Cowgirls logged their second-, third- and sixth-best shooting performances of the season against San Diego (51.9 percent), Colorado (50.9) and James Madison (48.3), respectively. Before the tournament, the last time OSU had shot that well was when it made 50.7 percent of its field goals against Arkansas Pine Bluff in December.

Much of the high shooting percentages can be attributed to OSU’s dominance inside. The Cowgirls scored exactly 200 points in the paint through the six WNIT games and scored 38 or more in the paint three times. OSU scored 38 or more points in the paint only four times in the regular season, and only once (38 against Missouri) in 2012. That goes back to Littell’s strategy to have a better inside-outside game. Young and Donohoe account for the majority of those points down low, but fellow posts Lindsey Keller and Vicky McIntyre also had some nice moments during the WNIT.

The crowd of 6,157 was the largest home attendance for OSU this season. Young admitted there may have been some jitters from playing in front of that many people in the game’s opening minutes, when James Madison took a 9-4 lead. But the Cowgirls only seemed to positively feed off the crowd from then on.

“We saw the line an hour before, there were people outside waiting,” Young said. “We never see that at our games. To see that the number is increasing by thousands is really exciting. If we can get them to come back next year, we’ll get more used to playing in front of a lot more people

“I was nervous, but I get nervous before every game. Seeing all those people out there made me nervous, but it was exciting to know that they were there for us.”

Looking ahead

Next season, the expectation will absolutely be for the Cowgirls to make the NCAA Tournament, and likely to finish in the top 4 of the Big 12. Every OSU player will return in 2012-13, and the Cowgirls will add the highest-rated recruit in program history in 6-foot wing Brittney Martin. And Littell, who was thrown into an unimaginable situation this season, will have a chance to prepare for 2012-13 as the guy in charge.

The Big 12 will remain one of the nation’s toughest conferences, especially with Baylor’s Brittney Griner returning for her senior season. Texas A&M will essentially be replaced by West Virginia, a perennial NCAA Tournament participant. Only two of the 10 players on this season’s All-Big 12 First Team were seniors.

But the WNIT clearly benefited these young Cowgirls. Next season they’ll be veterans. The goal will be to take the program one step further.

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