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Non-Conference Wrap: Who Are These Cowgirls?

OSU Heads to Big 12 Slate With Unanswered Questions

NCAA Womens Basketball: Big 12 Conference Tournament-Oklahoma vs Oklahoma State Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Oklahoma State Cowgirls basketball team emerged from the non-conference schedule with a record of 10-1, just like each of the previous two seasons, yet we probably know less about this year’s squad than we did in previous years.

With Jim Littell at the helm, the Cowgirls has advanced farther in the post season each year. Following the 2011-12 campaign, OSU went on to win the WNIT Championship. The following two years, Littell guided his squad to the NCAA Tournament, making it to the second round and the Sweet Sixteen, respectively.

Recent success aside, Cowgirls basketball has never surpassed 20 wins in four consecutive seasons. If it is to accomplish that feat this year, it’ll have to do so with relatively unknown players against the stiff competition found in the Big 12 Conference.

The good news is OSU already sits halfway to that win total, having emerged from the non-conference portion of the schedule with a 10-1 record. The question arises in discerning what this team is capable of within the conference.

But now that the non-conference schedule is complete, we at least have a clearer picture of this Cowgirls squad and how Littell has prepared his team for conference play.

A stronger interior presence. Kaylee Jensen has been a scoring machine all season long. The junior center averages a team high 19.1 points per game, helping her cause with 10.2 rebounds each time out. Both of those numbers are hefty increases from last year when the Cowgirls relied heavily on Brittany Martin’s all-around play. Jensen gives OSU a presence inside the paint. She can dominate for stretches, opening up opportunities for fellow junior Mandy Coleman to score and rebound on the interior.

Next woman up. Bench players from last year are stepping into starting roles this season and are making their presence felt. Sophomore guard Karli Wheeler started only once in ’15-16, chipping in 4.2 points per contest. In eleven games as a starter this season (she leads the team in minutes played), Wheeler is dropping in 13.3 points per game and is shooting more than 40 percent from distance. Senior guard Diana Omozee—second to Wheeler in minutes—is likewise scoring more but has stepped into the starting five and leads the team in assists.

Lockdown defense. So far this season, the Cowgirls has limited opponents to 34 percent shooting from the field and only 27 percent from behind the arc. OSU has also owned the rebounding edge by a triple digit margin (103) while holding opponents to 55 points each night. You’re going to win a ton of games with such strong defensive performances.

But the questions all center on the final game of the non-conference slate against then-No. 25 Oregon State in the Play 4 Kay Tournament last week in Las Vegas. The only blemish on the schedule—a 73-54 defeat to the Beavers—is the only time the Cowgirls played a well-regarded opponent. Despite a poor showing on the offensive end, Littell’s crew hung around before running out of gas in the fourth quarter.

Is that a foreshadowing of what’s to come or simply the result of playing three games in three days culminating in a championship contest versus a ranked opponent?

Without quality opponents in the non-conference schedule, it’s tough to make a prediction on the cusp of Big 12 play. However, OSU has navigated itself to another 10-1 start and has set itself up to compete against a stacked schedule the rest of the way.

Can the Cowgirls bounce back from that loss and do some damage in the Big 12? Four conference teams are ranked in the latest AP Poll (No. 3 Baylor, No. 12 WVU, No. 16 Texas and No. 24 Oklahoma) with two others—including OSU—receiving votes. The bigger followup question is how the Cowgirls will fare on the road in the conference. With only one true away game so far this year, we just don’t know how this team will compete against such high caliber conference slate.

It all begins December 29 in Gallagher-Iba Arena when the Iowa State Cyclones come to Stillwater.

If the Cowgirls are going to win ten or more games in the remaining schedule and achieve the 20-win mark for the fourth consecutive season, it will build a strong resume entering tournament season. Garnering votes in the latest polls shows Littell and his team are starting to get the nation’s attention.