STILLWATER — Searching for a motivational tool to help his team to regain its toughness, Oklahoma State coach Jim Littell contemplated using the Eddie Sutton model of whipping out football helmets and shoulder pads during practice last week.
He couldn't find any. Instead, he rolled a treadmill out onto the Gallagher-Iba Arena floor, with a run on the machine serving as punishment for a lazy defensive possession or failure to secure a rebound.
That, presumably, got the Cowgirls' attention. It absolutely yielded a dominant Bedlam result, as 12th-ranked OSU held every Oklahoma starter under double figures and blasted the Sooners on the boards in a 73-57 victory Sunday afternoon in Stillwater.
“We wanted to get back to playing defense the way we have. We wanted to get back rebounding,” Littell said. “We felt like we needed to help the kids get refocused a little bit.
“They took (the treadmill approach) very well, were very receptive to being coached and I think it paid off.”
OSU (20-4, 9-4 Big 12) had generally thrived in those two areas all season, entering Sunday ranking in the top 20 in the nation in scoring defense (20th, 57.4 points allowed per game), field-goal percentage defense (19th, 35.6 percent) and 3-point field-goal percentage defense (first, 23.6 percent) and 31st nationally in rebounding margin (plus-7.4). But in the Cowgirls' last three games, they had allowed 81 points in a loss to the Sooners in Norman, 74 in a narrow home win against Kansas and 81 in a blowout defeat at Baylor.
Sunday, though, the Cowgirls stifled the Sooners.
OSU held a 48-31 rebounding edge, with 17 of those boards coming on the offensive end. The Sooners (15-11, 6-7) shot 33.3 percent overall and 26.7 percent in the second half, where the Cowgirls held a lead as large as 20 points.
The Cowgirls often prevented OU post Nicole Griffin — who notched a double-double against OSU two weeks ago — from putting the ball on the floor in the paint. After allowing Sharane Campbell to score 28 points in Norman, OSU smartly guarded her dribble-drive attempts to hold her to six points and five turnovers. On the perimeter, Tiffany Bias largely denied clean looks at the basket for OU leading scorer Aaryn Ellenberg, who finished with eight points on 3-of-10 shooting and left the game in the second half with an apparent head injury after running into a hard screen set by Kendra Suttles.
“We have great defenders. We take pride in it,” Bias said. “It's all about effort when it comes to defense. I think that all five of us (starters), everyone on our bench, gave effort coming in and guarding everybody.”
Sooner coach Sherri Coale couldn't say the same about her squad's overall effort level, calling it “unacceptable.” It's the latest turn in a ping-pong type of season for OU — play well one game, poorly the next — that has the esteemed coach still searching for answers as the team nears the final stretch of Big 12 play.
“I'm having trouble making sense of a lot with this basketball team, I'll be honest with you,” Coale said. “I've never felt as inept at pushing their buttons. I just cannot seem to get them continually ready.
“I've tried everything I can think of, and then I've started making stuff up and just trying and inventing things to try to get this group ready every day. It's a challenge. It's been a real challenge …
“We'll keep plugging at it. I'll go down trying, that's for sure. But it's been quite a conundrum.”
Coale pointed to a stretch in the first half, where a cast primarily of reserves helped pull the Sooners to a 27-all tie, as evidence that her first unit was not properly engaged to start the game. But after that OU spurt, OSU finished the half on a 7-0 run and then scored the first 11 points of the second half to take control.
In fact, Cowgirl center LaShawn Jones knew then that the game was essentially out of reach.
Because she knew how her team would defend and rebound the rest of the way — or else the treadmill would likely reappear at practice.
“I thought they were done,” Jones said of the Sooners, “because I take pride in our defense and how we play. I knew once we got up by 25 or 20 that there was no coming back for them, especially since we were at home.”