Prior to the arrival of the late Kurt Budke for the 2005-06 season, OSU women's hoops was terrible.
Three consecutive losing seasons in which the Cowgirls notched single digit wins, and three or fewer wins in Big 12 play. But Budke's arrival didn't immediately turn the tide, as OSU suffered through another season with single digit wins, and worse yet, winless in conference play.
2006-07 was an entirely different story, as Budke led a turnaround for the ages. The Cowgirls put up 20 wins and finished 6th in the Big12 at 8-8, as well as getting a spot in the NCAA tourney (lost in the first round). Since then OSU has put together 8 consecutive winning seasons, as well as post-season appearances, including the WNIT championship in 2011-12 following Budke's tragic death earlier that season.
Stepping in to fill Budke's larger than life shoes was long time associate head coach Jim Littell. Both Budke and Littell previously enjoyed huge success as head coaches at the junior college level, with Littell's Seward Cty (KS) squad going undefeated at home (135-0) from 1995-2004. Littell was inducted into the NJCAA Hall of Fame in 2009.
Couple of facts for you...OSU women's basketball has a higher overall winning percentage than the men (78.6% to 69.4%). Even counting Budke's first season, where the team had just 6 wins, the Cowgirls trail the Cowboys by just 1 win (180 to 181) since 2005. They have just as many post-season appearances, same number of 20+ win seasons, and have one more NCAA tournament bid (5-4). They have a post-season championship (aforementioned WNIT), and have advanced past the first round of the NCAA 4 times (Rd of 32 twice...Sweet 16 twice).
We would be happy if the men's team had that resume over that period of time.
The Cowgirls have continued their recent success under Littell's guidance. Since he took over, OSU has posted a 72-33 record, including a 4-1 start this season. Last season saw a 25-9 record, a third place finish in the Big 12, and a Sweet 16 appearance. That team was led by current WNBA rookie and champion PG Tiffany Bias. How will the squad respond after the loss of that much talent?
So far, the answer is they aren't missing a beat. Other than a loss at the buzzer at #11 North Carolina, the Cowgirls have stomped everyone in their path. Their strength of schedule right now isn't going to win any awards, but they do have USC on the road coming up prior to Big 12 play. There will be no messing around, as they face traditional Big 12 boss Baylor to start conference play on Jan 3 in Waco.
Leading the way this season are two key Seniors, Liz Donohoe and LaShawn Jones. It feels like Donohoe has been here since Dubya was in office, and she plays like it. Not the most gifted athlete on the floor, she plays physical, knows where to be, and is one of the teams three point aces. Additionally, she would easily beat Phil Forte in a FT shooting contest, as she is currently maintaining 90.9% for the season (20-22). Her average line per game is 13-4-1-1-1.
Jones, while not looked to as a scorer, is averaging almost a double-double per game, with 10 pts (50%) and 9 boards.
The good news? As detailed here, youth is the strength of the team.
True sophomore Ro Johnson has done a superb job taking over the role vacated by Tiffany Bias. Her current average line is 11-4-7-0-3 (Bias logged 14-3-6-0-2 last season). Throw in less than 3 TO's per game (Bias average over 3 last season), and I'd say she's handling the job very well. Junior Brittany Martin has been the Cowgirls' most consistent scorer, and leads the team with 18.3 ppg. Much like Le'Bryan Nash, Martin is a tough cover. She's tall for a guard, and very athletic with good ball handling skills for a forward.
The big difference maker right now, however, is redshirt sophomore Brittany Atkins. Following a somewhat out of control and inconsistent campaign in 2013-14 (7.3 ppg and 28% from 3), Atkins committed herself to working on her outside shot, in particular her 3 point shooting. It has shown, as she is the team's second leading scorer at 17.3 ppg, and is shooting an absurd 61% behind the arc (11-18). While that production will likely fall when Big 12 play begins, it will be critical for her to maintain that level of improvement for the Cowgirls to succeed.
Another plus for Coach Littell is depth. There are currently 8 players averaging 14 or more minutes per game, and there are two more averaging 7+ minutes. Last season saw 8 players with 11+ minutes a game, but nobody else over 5 minutes.
Ro Johnson is following in Bias' "ironwoman" footsteps, putting in 34+ minutes per game (Bias averaged 36+ last season). If there is anyplace that the team could use a little help, it would be here. Atkins and Martin both handle the ball at times, but as the men have discovered, having a backup PG that can at least run the offense for a few minutes without destroying the world is huge.
Overall, the Cowgirls look to be in fine position to continue their run of 20+ win seasons and post-season appearances, and with some luck might be able to contend for a Big 12 title.
OSU's women are in action later today at 2pm Central as they host Texas State. There is no radio or TV coverage, but if you pay the "man," you can watch and listen here. You will also be able to follow on Twitter.
It's looking like GIA might be fully loaded for hoops this season!
GO POKES (AND POKETTES)!!!