The Oklahoma State Cowgirls are still dancing. At home, no less. OSU dominated a 26-9 San Diego squad in Wednesday's 73-57 win the the WNIT semifinals. The Pokes continued their roll through the tournament by playing an all-around game by sinking over half of their shot attempts from the field while locking down the Toreros and holding them to 30.3% shooting.
San Diego coach Cindy Fisher attributed some of the lacking offense and defense to the road warrior status the Toreros have had in recent days.
"Nothing against Oklahoma State, they're very fortunate to have this crowd and to be able to host. They've hosted five games in a row," Fisher said. "We host two at home and we've been on the road since I don't even know when. One day we were in five states in one day ... Travel is going to catch up with you at some point."
But really, Toni Young caught up with San Diego in Stillwater, something that Fisher didn't expect.
"We just didn't have an answer for Toni today. I watched a lot of film coming into this game and had a lot of things prepared for her and I thought she just completely took it to a different level tonight. That's obviously where we lost the ballgame right there."
Young, who's continued to thrive in the tournament setting, finished the evening with a new season high of 27 points to go with eight rebounds and two blocks. In a five minute stretch in the second half, she scored 10 straight Cowgirl points when the lead reached the 20-point mark for the first time in the night. At that point, the Pokes were up 51-31 with 15:03 to play. Young has elevated her play exponentially since the regular season ended with the junior averaging 9.9 points a game.
Young is not alone in reaching new heights this postseason. Freshman Liz Donohoe finished with her fourth straight double-double in a 20-point, 11-rebound outing. They were joined in double-digit scoring by point guard Tiffany Bias. Bias topped out at 15 points and eight assists in the win. The fearsome threesome has been averaging 36.9 points a game this year, but against San Diego they combined for 62 of OSU's 73 points.
"I think to see them evolve into a better player; that's what these extra games do for you is just allow you play and get some extra games under your belt and everyone to click," Bias said of teammates Young and Donohoe. "Their shots are falling and usually at the end of the season people are dead tired, things aren't falling, but as our season is going everyone is improving and evolving even more so it's just a lot of potential for next year."
Littell thinks a lot of it is just about the attitude of fun on the court, even joking that tonight was the first time Donohoe had smiled all season.
"We've talked to Tiff about let's just go play basketball and let's create and help others get better and I think she's playing a lot looser, a lot freer," OSU coach Jim Littell said. "Tiff said on the way up here it's kind of like a pick up game right now, that's kind of how we're playing and our players are enjoying playing that way. Because of that I think all three of them have been more productive and have been able to use their athletic ability."
The Cowgirls will have the opportunity to showcase that athletic ability again on their home court, as they host James Madison in the finals on Saturday. The crowds, which have been growing steadily since the tournament started, are sure to be an influencing factor in the title tilt. OSU's first game attendance was 1,324 during spring break week, but that number grew to 2,392 against Colorado in the quarterfinals. Last night, there were 3,484 fans on hand to cheer the Pokes to victory. And Littell is calling for even more people to show their support this weekend.
"Let's go fill the thing! People are getting excited about it," Littell said. "I don't know what's a realistic number. We're very appreciative of the people that are here. I hope it continues to grow. This is the middle of the week, you'd think that you'd have a great crowd on Saturday."
OSU has won each of their WNIT games by an average of 16 points a night and posted the last two wins in wire-to-wire fashion. OSU, who has not had to travel throughout their tournament run, host their fifth game Saturday at 2 p.m. CT for a chance to cut down the nets.
San Diego was impressed with the crowd support at Gallagher-Iba Arena.
"I think any time you play with that much emotion and that much energy in the gym, it's definitely a factor," Fisher said of the Toreros experience in Stillwater. "I thought the crowd was phenomenal today. It was hard for them to hear my calls and hard for them to hear Dominique's calls and we missed assignments a few times."
But can the Cowgirls win? Fisher thinks so. And thinks the crowd will have something to do with the outcome.
"They have everything they need. They have a solid point guard, they have great shooters on the outside, they have nice rotations inside in the post," Fisher said. "I am not very familiar with James Madison anymore. I used to be, but I know they always have a quality program.
Then she thought for a second.
"Is the game here? Yeah, it'll be tough. It'll be tough," she finished with a chuckle.
With 3:56 to play and the game firmly held by the Cowgirls, San Diego's star senior Dominique Conners went down grimacing in pain and holding her left knee. Head coach Cindy Fisher talked about the impact Conners has had on the Toreros program and her status after the game.
"Unfortunate that Dominique went down. Unfortunate to have a kid have that kind of an injury in her last game of her career when she's our all-time leading scorer and has done so much to make this run in this kind of special year to happen for USD." She went on to say, "Obviously they're testing her ACL. It's the same knee that she had an ACL on before. The doctors couldn't get a real good read at this point but that's what they're testing."
On a personal note:
My 'gift' to you is this video of the team and their loyal fans singing the OSU alma mater at the conclusion of the game. The celebration to begin the clip is the reaction after it was announced at OSU would be hosting the WNIT finals. I am sad that I will miss the game, but have full confidence that Saturday evening's story to be told will be one of joy after they cut down the nets. #LoyalAndTrue