Lawrence, KS — On Wednesday night, the No. 25 ranked Oklahoma State women’s basketball team (18-9, 9-7 Big 12) sought out to redirect its slippery slope on the road after back-to-back home losses against No. 3 Baylor and No. 6 Texas.
Since sliding down to No. 25 in the latest Division I Associated Press rankings, the Cowgirls were determined to fight their way back up the national polls heading into the upcoming NCAA tournament. With Oklahoma State’s notable play and these implications on the horizon, a matchup against the Kansas Jayhawks (12-15, 3-13 Big 12) appeared to be a matter of David and Goliath.
However, Kansas’ team play and clutch perimeter shooting stunned Oklahoma State, capturing a 66-59 win inside Allen Fieldhouse.
Despite enduring a near 30-point defeat on February 3 in Stillwater, the Jayhawks entered the matchup with new determination.
After Oklahoma State got out to a quick 4-0 lead, junior guard Christalah Lyons helped spark some energy into Kansas’ play with four points of her own. However, as the Cowgirls got a feel for the Jayhawks’ play, Oklahoma State swiftly extended its lead behind Big 12 leading rebounder, senior center Kaylee Jensen (18.6 ppg, 10.5 rpg), and the conference’s leading scorer, guard Loryn Goodwin (20.7 ppg).
Jensen was an immediate target down low for the Cowgirls, as she racked up six points and five rebounds in the first quarter alone. With Goodwin’s 11 points in the first, the two Oklahoma State standouts helped capture the lead heading into the second.
Though the Cowgirls managed to stay out in front, the Jayhawks were relentless from the perimeter, shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc in the first as they entered the second quarter down just five points.
As Oklahoma State stuck with its bread and butter, dishing it to Jensen down low, Kansas continued its flurry of perimeter shots. The Jayhawks continued to trail Oklahoma State, but with the help of junior forward Austin Richardson and junior guard Kylee Kopatich, just six points separated them at 29-23, with 3:33 remaining in the second.
Nevertheless, that deficit soon diminished as redshirt sophomore forward Tyler Johnson, who was absent last season due to a knee injury, emerged as Kansas’ own dominant presence in the paint with 2:26 remaining.
In that short time frame, Johnson managed to rack up seven points to put Kansas within striking distance. Despite the team’s inability to capture a lead throughout the majority of the first, the Jayhawks combined team effort helped propel Kansas to a 32-31 lead heading into the second half.
“I kind of fed off the energy of the team and it felt like the team needed me in that moment, so I did what I had to do,” Johnson said.
With the second half falling underway, Oklahoma State was sure to manufacture a short burst of baskets as Kansas remained right by their side. After a few minutes into the third, Kansas was once again on top, now formulating its own attempt to run away with the lead.
Lyons’ swift crossover at the top of the key put her defender on skates, as she drained a deep jump shot to put Kansas up by three, 43-40.
As Kansas fans rallied around their home team, Kopatich electrified the place with yet another three, putting the Jayhawks up by six. As the energy inside Allen Fieldhouse amplified, offensive mishaps for Oklahoma State ensued. Kansas’ relentless defense forced a shot clock expiration during Oklahoma State’s possession.
“We got out-hustled,” Oklahoma State head coach Jim Littell said. “I don’t know how that can happen in a game that had that magnitude on it for us with [NCAA tournament] implications.”
After a missed offensive opportunity for Oklahoma State, junior guard Karli Wheeler took a page out of Kansas’ playbook, coming back with her own back-to-back three-pointers to tie up the game at 46. Both teams would continue producing on both ends of the floor in their back-and-forth battle, tying up the game, 50-50 heading into the fourth quarter.
In the deciding quarter, Johnson opened up with a quick basket in the paint to put Kansas back on top. Richardson soon followed in her footsteps with a personal three to increase the lead to five. Oklahoma State refused to let up though, as Jensen knocked down an inside jumper of her own.
Kansas’ physical play in the paint allowed the team to gradually extend its lead behind free throw opportunities. Now in the hot seat, Oklahoma State continued to push the ball up the floor to create scoring chances.
A Goodwin jumper and a free-throw narrowed the deficit to four points, 59-55. Late-game free throw attempts brought both sides to a standstill with one minute remaining, 59-59. That is until Kopatich took matters into her own hands.
With just 42 seconds remaining as time winded down, Kopatich sprinted to the top of the key and with all of the confidence in the world, released a game-deciding shot from beyond the arc.
Kopatich’s late-game three put the Jayhawks back on top, 62-59. Oklahoma State was unable to connect on their following offensive opportunity, as Kansas’ Lyons closed out the game with two free throws.
“It was nice to make a bucket at that time because we were in a drought and I think we all knew that we were going to win this game,” Kopatich said. “They saw that I was open and I knocked it down.”
All of the sudden, what once appeared to be a doubtful win for Kansas, was now molded into a reality.
Despite the loss, Goodwin finished the game with a game-high 21 points, as Jensen notched an 18-point, 11-rebound double-double. However, the dynamic duo was unable to contain Kansas’ team effort, as four players recorded double figures, with Kylee Kopatich’s 19 points leading the way.
Even with Oklahoma State possessing the leading rebounder in the conference, Kansas managed to out-rebound Oklahoma State, 38-36, as they shot 45 percent from the perimeter on the night.
“They just crushed us on the boards a few weeks ago in Stillwater,” Kansas head coach Brandon Schneider said. “To see our guys really respond to the challenge of being more competitive on the boards is something that I’m very pleased with.”
While Kansas looks to further its strong finish to the 2017-18 season this Saturday against Kansas State, Oklahoma State will now set its sights on West Virginia in hopes of heading into postseason play with some much-needed momentum.