By JASON ELMQUIST
OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma State got one last test in before the NCAA tournament begins in nearly two weeks — nearly passed it.
For the second time this season, the Cowgirl basketball team came just short of knocking of Big 12 Conference power Baylor in the semifinals of the Big 12 Conference Women’s Basketball Championship in Oklahoma City. But a slow start on offense prevented OSU from getting past the Bears, losing 65-61.
“All the games are tough in the league, but I think this game really prepared us and taught us that we need to be patient when people start denying our passing lanes and things like that,” Brittney Martin said. “I think we really need to be patient on offense, and it showed how hard we’re going to have to work to get where we want to.”
That’s simply how difficult the Big 12 has become as one of the few conferences in the country to play a round-robin format conference schedule — where everybody plays each league opponent twice, or a third time in the conference tournament.
Baylor coach Kim Mulkey used it as a way to petition the NCAA selection committee when trying to decide how many Big 12 teams deserve spots in the tournament, along with giving proper recognition in seeding.
Cowgirl coach Jim Littell seemed to make his plea, of sorts, which pointing out after the loss just how impressive their resume looks when looking at the numbers.
“If you want to draw from the positives, five of our eight losses this year are the conference champions (Baylor and West Virginia). All eight of our losses are to teams that are going to be in the NCAA Tournament,” Littell said “So we really don’t have a bad loss on our resume right now.
“We’ve got to get some time off, get these kids rested up, get healed up a little bit, and this point of the year you’re not going to teach them that much more, you’ve just got to have fresh minds and fresh bodies.”
After nearly ending a losing streak to Baylor that stretched out to 10 with Sunday’s loss, Mulkey spent a few minutes with the Cowgirl coach — which Littell shared with the media afterward.
“I think when we get to the NCAA Tournament there’s probably not a whole lot that you haven’t seen or you’re prepared for,” Littell said. “Coach Mulkey told me after the game, she said, ‘Jim, this league is a grind, and you know, you guys can go into the tournament and win games,’ and I believe that out of her team and I believe that out of our team.
“I just think this league is, from top to bottom, the best in the country, and it prepares you to play in the NCAA Tournament.”
First Oklahoma State must clean up the mistakes the Lady Bears exposed in the semifinal matchup. Not only did Baylor slow down OSU’s offense, but the Cowgirls also had trouble rebounding despite having more athletic post players.
Cowgirls centers LaShawn Jones and Kendra Suttles combined for just six rebounds — with Suttles collecting five of them — while Baylor finished with a plus-8 advantage in rebounding, and collected 15 offensive boards.
“It’s crucial, and LaShawn can’t have one rebound and us be successful once we enter postseason play,” Littell said. “We’ve talked to that, and five in 22 minutes isn’t bad for Kendra, but LaShawn does have to pick it up as far as rebounding.
“She’s one that’s got the athleticism and the quick twitch to go get the ball, and she needs to rebound better than that. But sometimes you look at it, too, there weren’t a lot of rebounds left after Brittney Martin was getting all that she got, as well.”