DALLAS — Had Jim Littell previously been informed of the scenario his team would face Sunday against Baylor, he gladly would have taken it.
Down three points against the No. 1 team in the nation with about one minute to play. With the ball.
But after a late charge by the Cowgirls and a frenzied closing minutes, OSU’s upset bid ultimately came up short in a 77-69 victory for the Bears to advance to Monday night’s Big 12 Tournament championship game against Iowa State.
“I’m very pleased with our effort and our performance and our courage that we played with,” Littell said. “We went toe-to-toe with the No. 1 team in the nation and with 38 seconds to go, we were down by three.
“I didn’t think we played with any fear.”
After falling behind 54-37 with about 15 minutes to play, OSU staged a 32-18 run — sparked largely by its defensive pressure that forced Baylor into a season-high 24 turnovers — to put itself in position to tie.
But a pass from Liz Donohoe to LaShawn Jones in the paint was knocked away by Baylor star Brittney Griner, and Jordan Madden provided the dagger when she nailed a 3-pointer from the right wing with the shot clock winding down to give the Bears a 75-69 advantage with 38 seconds to play.
“I probably should have shot the ball,” Donohoe admitted. “But I figured I could pass it into (Jones) and she could beast up on Brittney Griner and score and maybe get an and-1.
“Live and learn.”
That type of rally was needed twice from the Cowgirls, who also fell down by 17 points midway through the first half. But a trio of 3-pointers and a pull-up jumper by Tiffany Bias keyed an 18-9 burst that cut the Bears’ lead to 41-33 with 1:57 left until the break.
And even when Baylor re-extended its lead after intermission, the Cowgirls never faded away. Then they came charging hard.
Toni Young, who finished 22 points and 11 rebounds, no longer looked flustered by Griner in the paint and started aggressively driving to the basket in the second half. The Cowgirls’ switch to a 2-3 zone — along with Brittney Martin and Bias’ active hands on the perimeter — heavily contributed to OSU’s 17 steals and 12 fast break points. And Donohoe played one of the best games of her career, finishing with 20 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and four steals.
So there were more positives than negatives to take from Sunday’s contest. Yet the Cowgirls’ locker room emotions were still a bit conflicted. Proud of the effort, but felt their own mistakes in crunch time cost them the game.
“We took a step,” Bias said. “But at the same time, we could have taken a huge step and beaten the No. 1 team in the nation.”
After coming so close to a massive upset, OSU now waits for the NCAA Tournament field to be announced March 18. And for a group of Cowgirls that Littell calls “unique” — as in, one that hasn’t always handled prosperity well and has struggled to find consistency all season — the task is to build on this game for a final charge in March.
“It ought to help your confidence that we’re capable of playing with anybody in the country when you’re locked in,” Littetll said.