By Nick Snow
CNHI News Service
STILLWATER – With championships come higher expectations – Oklahoma State women’s basketball coach Jim Littell knows this.
But even a year after overcoming the plane crash that killed coaches Kurt Budke and Miranda Serna to win the WNIT title, there still seems to be that lack of respect for a Cowgirl squad that returns five starters.
Oklahoma State was picked to finish near the bottom of the conference, with little recognition for last season’s Big 12 Freshman of the Year Liz Donohoe or junior point guard Tiffany Bias.
“We brought it up to them,” Littell said. “We’re going to use it as a motivational point when we talk to our team. I believe Tiffany ended up second-team all-conference and I don’t know if she received any recognition at all – maybe fourth-team in one of the publications.
“But we’ve also told our players its nice for the media, but the preseason stuff doesn’t equate to anything of how the season is going to go. (They have to) just step up and prove people wrong. Earn respect. Play with a little bit of a chip on you’re shoulder and let’s go.”
The Cowgirls may be the defending WNIT champions, but with five returning players and a host of new players that could have an immediate impact, Oklahoma State doesn’t expect to be defending that title.
“We want to make it (to the NCAA tournament),” Oklahoma State senior forward Lindsey Keller said. “We want to not necessarily have it as a goal, but as a standard. We want to actually be there. We want to practice like an NCAA team. We were just one game out and it’s just one of those things that adds a little fire in your belly.”
That fire showed in Oklahoma State’s run through the WNIT – a run that may also benefit the Cowgirls this season. The additional hours of practice and the momentum from last season’s strong finish have the Cowgirls firing on all cylinders as they prepare for the new season.
“I believe that the WNIT run was very crucial for us in a lot of different ways,” Littell said. “It enabled us to practice a month longer. I relate that to a bowl game for football teams, where they get that extra month of practice before they get to play in a bowl game. ... Just being able to practice with a young team and getting six more games in a tournament setting was very important to us.”
Littell believes that playing in those tournament games should help the Cowgirls reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since the 2009-10 season.
“We’ve kind of gone with the theme of raising the bar,” Littell said. “The expectations have heightened. That is our goal – to not only go to the NCAA tournament, but win games there.”
In order to reach the NCAA tournament one thing will have to change – the Cowgirls will have to win on the road in the Big 12. Oklahoma State went 1-8 on the road in conference last year, with their lone win coming at Kansas.
“I would like to win every game and every game we’re going to go in with that mindset, but it’s going to be awful hard over an 18-game schedule to upend Baylor,” Littell said. “What I’ve challenged our team to do is to get in the top of the division. Let’s move up and see how high we can get. ... We played with a lot of people and we split with a lot of people in our league last year. The key for us to move up in the conference standings is to have the ability to win on the road. That’s the major step that we have to make this year – prove that we can go win on the road.”