When the Oklahoma State women left the court on Wednesday after a narrow win over Fort Hays, the ladies hit but 25 percent of their second half shots in the squeaker. When they took to the hardwood on Sunday afternoon for their regular season opener against Rice, a vastly different story was told.
The offensive struggle that was very evident in exhibition was completely eradicated, and it showed as soon as Kendra Suttles snuck into the paint for the first basket of the game. The Cowgirls second bucket came from the female version of Big Country, as 6-6 Vicky McIntyre nailed a jumper in the paint with the dish from Suttles.
The inside game was in full effect.
But Kurt Budke knows this team thrives on more than just points in the post. And this season, the first look down low is not this only option for these youthful Cowgirls.
"We really feel where this team is better than last year's team is the ability to score at all five positions," Budke said. "We did a good job of sharing the basketball tonight. We wanted to play an inside-out game and the first look is always to the post and we've got a few people that can score down there."
The Cowgirl scorers were torrid in the first half, and not just from that inside game. Suttles was hitting treys, freshman Liz Donohoe powered to the rim for buckets, and assists started to pile up for Tiffany Bias. The shots were falling too for the point guard, as Bias sliced the lane for layups. By the end of the first half, OSU built a 58-27 lead over the Owls and was a scorching 24-of-37 from the field, including 34 points in the paint. But just like Budke said, that outside game was spot-on too as OSU had five first half threes to compliment the posts play.
Suttles led the way to the locker room with 21 points and five rebounds, with Donohoe adding 12 first half points. McIntyre and Bias both scored 11 in the first period of play, and Bias added eight assists in the half. Though the game wasn't exactly over, well ... it was over.
OSU sunk 64.9 percent of its first half shots, a remarkable sight for the team that tends to grind for points. In fact, the Cowgirls' last time to shoot 60 percent in a half was March 20, 2010 against Chattanooga in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The Cowgirls won that game 70-63 after a hot hand in the second half helped them to victory. But against the Mocs, OSU was a mild 38.6 percent for the game due to a dismal 19-point first half. While the Cowgirls cooled down a touch in the second half against Rice, OSU finished the contest hitting 40-of-73 from the field (54.8%) in the 96-60 win.
Suttles finished the game with 27 points and 12 rebounds, her second career double-double after closing out the 2011 season with 12 and 10 in the WNIT. She was 12-of-14 from the floor with three 3-pointers. It would be presumptuous to say Budke expected this performance, but he wasn't surprised to see Suttles shine on Sunday.
"That's the kid we've seen all fall and that's what was so disappointing about the other night is that you all didn't get to see what we've seen all fall ... She worked hard all summer and she can beat you a lot of ways.
"Kendra can shoot the three, she can post you, she did a great job blocking out, rebounding and she helped guard their best player. I think when Toni comes back we're going to have outstanding depth at the 4 and the 5 and I think they can play with a lot of people."
After the game the shy Suttles shrugged off her stellar shooting.
"I just looked for my open shots and if it was open I just shot it like I usually do," Suttles said. "I guess today they just went in."
Bias shook her head and chipped in with some praise for her fellow sophomore's performance.
"I think she's very humble about herself right now," Bias said of Suttles. "Kendra can score either way, from the inside or out. I think this just shows a little glimpse of what's to come this whole year."
Kendra's reply? A sheepish grin and a "thanks" to her point guard.
Bias herself had a banner day of her own that musn't be overlooked either. She ended with 20 points, a career-high 12 assists and four steals. Donohoe finished with 17 points, six rebounds, four assists and three steals. McIntyre put up 13 points and seven boards and Lindsey Keller added 10 points for the Cowgirls. A true team effort on night of offensive explosions.
Defensively, the Cowgirls limited Rice's best player, Jessica Kuster, to seven total touches. In her last outing, Kuster cranked out 22 points and 18 rebounds. Against OSU, she was limited to seven points on 2-of-7 shooting and nine rebounds in 35 minutes of play. No Rice player reached double-digit scoring in the outing.
"Kuster is an outstanding player that came off 22 points, 18 rebounds in the last game," Budke said of the Owls. "I think keeping her touches to a minimum forced other people to shoot shots they didn't necessarily want to shoot. I think that was a big key. I don't think you stop her one-on-one, you stop her with great team defense, and I think that's what we did today."
OSU dominated in nearly every facet of the game, outrebounding Rice 51-33, outshooting Rice 54.8% to 30.3%, outassisting Rice 24-11, outhustling Rice 54-16 for points in the paint. A nice way to start the season.
Up next for the Cowgirls is a WNBA-style schedule - back-to-back games over the weekend against Grambling State and Texas-Arlington. While this isn't ideal for the Cowgirls, Budke hopes his depth will be a key, particularly when suiting up a player short (junior Toni Young will miss these two contests as well).
"When you try to put this pre-conference schedule together, people think it's easy," Budke addressed the OSU schedule. "It is ridiculous how hard it is to squeeze in 11 games into a very short window when it's not finals, when it's not pre-finals and so it's just going to happen like that. I don't really like it, but hopefully we have the depth to survive it."