Seniors Andrea Riley and Tegan Cunningham, surrounded by the 4th-seeded Cowgirl basketball team
The crowd gathered at Boone Pickens Stadium, in eager anticipation of hearing the results and rewards of a hard-fought season. And those results came early in the evening’s festivities. ESPN started their selection show with talk of – who else – UConn and moved quickly into unveiling the first bracket, Sacramento.
To the surprise of some and the expectation of others, Oklahoma State landed at the fourth-seed facing off against Chattanooga, winners of the Southern Conference. Don’t count head coach Kurt Budke among those who were surprised – this is just what he anticipated. "The committee told us that they would reward us for what we accomplished this year," Budke noted, "and the committee kept their word."
He continued making the case for the Cowgirls’ high seed, though he needn’t feel it necessary to justify after OSU’s 23-10 season and Top 20 finish. "Just looking at pure numbers of nine Top 50 wins, six Top 25 wins; RPI was 12, strength of schedule seven. Just by going by the numbers, we were a four seed."
The talk on the TV and throughout the crowd hinged on what will be the first-round absence of star guard Andrea Riley. But as fellow senior Megan Byford pointed out, "it was something we knew was coming all along, so I think we’re prepared for it." As many may know, Riley is suspended for the Cowgirls first-round NCAA game due to an incident that happened in the 2008 tournament.
"It will be very strange," playing without Riley in the first game, Tegan Cunningham readily admits. "I think the game will be very different, but it’s something we must adjust for and if we want to get this done we have to really focus on us as a team and really getting it done for [Riley] as well."
Freshman up-and-comer Toni Young knows she will have to play an even bigger part than what she has taken on as she has blossomed throughout the year. "My role is going to be rebounding and scoring more than what I’m doing now. I can’t wait until next year, because the season’s here now."
Riley’s early advice for her team is "to just going out and play like they play on the playground." As for her advice to herself she says, "I’m going to be happy for my team. I can’t mope around, I’m not going to be that way. I have too much faith in my teammates. They always cheer for me, so why not cheer for them? Why not be their biggest fan when they’d do the same thing for me."
When talking about the upcoming matchup Budke joked, "well, the one thing you can’t do is scout us right now. That’s the one advantage we have". All joking aside, there is more than just the unknown as an advantage. These ladies feel they owe it to Andrea to make it to the second-round and they all feel they’ve proven throughout a tough Big 12 conference schedule that they have the strength, ability and will to do just that.
As they have the entire season – as a team – on and off the court.