By NICK SNOW
STILLWATER — They can go big. They can go small. They have four starters returning — one of which is a senior point guard that was an honorable mention All-American.
And yet, the Oklahoma State women’s basketball team wasn’t even considered a favorite to win the Big 12 after receiving zero votes.
That’s right zero. Zilch. None.
“To be honest, I didn’t put much thought in it at all,” Oklahoma State coach Jim Littell said. “I know where we’re at as a team and where we’re trying to get people at. I’m not too concerned about the preseason polls. I’m more concerned about where we will finish in the end and getting into the tournament.”
The Cowgirls may not have received any votes as a contender to win what should be a wide open Big 12 with the graduation of Baylor’s Brittney Griner. But make no mistake, there are high expectations this season.
“I’m really excited,” Oklahoma State freshman guard Roshunda Johnson said. “We’re real athletic and I feel really good about the team. I feel like we’re going to make it to the Final Four or even the championship. We’re running and gunning for everybody.”
A championship may be a little bit of a stretch for the Cowgirls, who were knocked out of the NCAA tournament in the second round by Duke, but a Big 12 title isn’t necessarily out of the question.
“As a team, I think we have big goals,” Oklahoma State senior guard Tiffany Bias said. “We want to win the Big 12 championship and then see where that takes us. I think we can have a deep run in the tournament.
“The last loss that we had in the tournament left a bad taste in our mouth and made us hungry for this year. It helped us to work harder in the offseason and push ourselves a lot harder than we ever have before.”
The end result? A more athletic team that can run with just about anybody in the country, all while providing enough flash to keep fans in Gallagher-Iba Arena entertained.
“I think our strengths are our team chemistry and our athleticism,” Bias said. “I think we are very athletic this year and have a full bench that can all play.”
No doubt, the Cowgirls will need that bench this season. While Oklahoma State returns four starters — Bias, Brittney Martin, Liz Donohoe and Kendra Suttles — the one that isn’t returning was a key cog in Oklahoma State’s success.
Toni Young led the team with 16 points and 10 rebounds per game. Now she’s in New York playing for the WNBA’s New York Liberty, leaving a big hole for Littell to fill.
“That’s where we’re trying to find our identity right now,” Littell said. “When you’re a first-round pick then you’re a real talent. The thing that Toni gave us was that we had the ability to pitch the ball to her late in the shot clock and she could create her own shot. ... Not one person is going to (make up for Young), so we have to do it collectively. We have to find a way to get Brittney Martin four more points a game and Tiffany Bias four more points a game. We’re going to have to pick up that slack collectively.”
But while Young’s departure left a gaping hole in Oklahoma State’s offense, Littell is hoping an influx of eight freshmen and junior transfer Marisha Wallace will make up the difference.
While not all of the freshmen are ready to play just yet, Littell is confident a few could see some crucial minutes this season.
“We feel like (Johnson, Katelyn Loecker and Lakota Beatty) will make significant contributions early,” Littell said. “Brittany Atkins, who is a redshirt freshman, is coming back strong from knee surgery. We feel all four of them will come out strong from the get go.”
When asked whether or not that could mean another run at the Big 12 title and possibly Oklahoma State’s first Sweet 16 berth since 2008, Littell just smiled.
“You never know,” Littell said. “As always, the Big 12 is going to be a difficult league to play in. We’re very optimistic about the season. We have some great leadership and a great group of talented, athletic kids. Those things are usually a recipe for success.”