STILLWATER — Oklahoma State had built a double-digit lead, then blown it. Kansas State seemingly hit 3-pointer after 3-pointer and had snagged a four-point lead with less than three minutes to go.
So Cowgirl coach Jim Littell decided to put on the full-court press. His confidence it would work didn’t stem from his team frequently practicing it. The Cowgirls don’t. He just had a hunch.
A correct hunch, as the press certainly provided the desired spark, yielding six quick points to push the score in OSU’s favor for good in a 67-62 win Saturday afternoon at Gallagher-Iba Arena.
“We just weren’t stopping them at the other end,” Littell said. “We were drowning on the other end. So I thought we’d need to try something else, and it worked out.
“It could have been where (K-State) kicked it out, hit a 3 in the corner and you look stupid doing it, but it worked out for us. I think it changed the tempo of the game.”
The win for the No. 15 Cowgirls (22-6, 11-6 Big 12) sets up a huge contest at Texas on Monday, which will be for the No. 3 seed in the Big 12 Tournament. That seed will likely be the difference between playing Baylor and West Virginia in the semifinals.
OSU first went to the press following a pair of Tiffany Bias free throws that cut K-State’s lead to 57-55 with 2:41 to play. Brittney Martin swiped the inbounds pass and dished the ball to Brittany Atkins for the game-tying layup. Martin then stole the ensuing inbounds pass again, was fouled on a layup attempt and made both free throws to take a two-point lead.
That’s 12 points in six seconds.
K-State coach Deb Patterson, recognizing her squad was clearly flustered, called a timeout. But it was too late; the tide had already shifted, both on the scoreboard and emotionally.
“That was the spark that got the momentum changing to our way,” Bias said. “I think if we didn’t do that, it would have been a tough game for us at the end.
“When big plays like that happen, especially back-to-back-to-back, you feel that momentum changing our way. Things just started flowing, and you’re at ease more and you’re playing more comfortable, even though there’s only two minutes left.
“When you get those (types of plays), you get the crowd in it. You get the bench in it and just our whole team in it.”
The press wasn’t a totally new adventure for the Cowgirls. They actually busted it out against Iowa State on Wednesday, which helped OSU’s second-half surge to get back into that game. But Littell also banked on the fact that because Big 12 teams, generally speaking, rarely press, that perhaps K-State wouldn’t be prepared to handle it.
“I wish we had the depth and numbers to do it more often,” Littell said. “But it was a huge factor in the game today.”
For much of the contest, it didn’t seem like OSU would need that frenzied finish. The Cowgirls led by as many as 14 points early in the second half, before K-State made 6-of-9 shots from 3-point range to pace its rally.
The Cowgirls’ 11th Big 12 win ties a school record for the most conference victories in a season. OSU doesn’t have much time to celebrate, however, with the quick turnaround for the trip to Austin.
Yet Martin said the Cowgirls aren’t caught up in the magnitude of Monday night’s game.
“All the games feel the same to us,” she said. “We’ve got to win all of them to really be where we want to be so we don’t have to play Duke at Duke again in the (second) round (of the NCAA Tournament).
“All the games are the same. We just gotta win.”