John Klein: Cowgirls' emotional season has a happy ending
BY JOHN KLEIN Senior Sports Columnist
Sunday, April 01, 2012
11/13/12 at 3:02 PM
Go to John Klein's Blog
Toni Young keeps promise to play hard for coaches
OSU WNIT Notebook: Proud moment
Cowgirls win WNIT championship to cap emotional season
Original Print Headline: Happy ending tribute to OSU's resolve
STILLWATER - The season ended the only way it should for the Oklahoma State women's basketball team.
From a horrific tragedy to a triumphant moment.
The Cowgirls, ending one of the most improbable and inspiring runs in OSU's athletic history, won the Women's National Invitation Tournament on Saturday.
Oklahoma State's Toni Young led an early surge in the second half, giving the Cowgirls a 15-point lead, then OSU coasted home with a 75-68 victory over James Madison at Gallagher-Iba Arena.
It capped a season that started with such pain and ended with such joy.
"It has been so emotional for us the entire season," said OSU point guard Tiffany Bias.
Oklahoma State coach Kurt Budke, assistant Miranda Serna and two OSU supporters were killed in a plane crash on Nov. 17.
"We decided way back in November that we were going to pay honor to them and we did," said OSU coach Jim Littell.
After two games were cancelled at the start the season, the Cowgirls played on.
"It has been a roller coaster," said Bias. "When we were sad, we were all sad. When we were happy, we were all happy."
It has been a season of wild emotional swings.
OSU won its last three games of the regular season or, as Littell said, "we probably would have been mowing lawns or something today."
Instead, the Cowgirls won a game that is the latest chapter in Gallagher-Iba's long and storied history.
"We got through it all together," said Young, who had 25 points in the championship game and was named the WNIT MVP.
Littell said he couldn't keep thinking about his friends and family throughout Saturday's game.
"It's been a long, tough year," said Littell.
Budke's wife Shelley continued to sit in her regular seats up behind OSU's bench the entire season.
She got to help cut down the nets after the WNIT Championship Game.
"That was really special," said Littell. "She's a special lady.
"She's been a rock for us all season."
Bias didn't make the all-tournament team but she should have, especially after she saved the Cowgirls in the finals.
She hit 8-of-9 free throws in the final 70 seconds of the game.
Bias said remembering those that weren't at the game inspired her team.
"It was always on our mind," said Bias.
OSU had a season that will long be remembered, especially the six straight victories to win the WNIT.
After two games were cancelled, the Cowgirls won their next seven for an 8-0 start to the season.
The rest of the season was full of peaks and valleys.
The peaks included victories over Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Texas.
However, after a loss to Missouri in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament it appeared the long, tough season had finally worn down the Cowgirls.
But, the WNIT gave the Cowgirls one last chance to make memories of a lifetime.
OSU took full advantage.
"It was hard," said Littell. "The kids wanted to represent and do the right thing."
In the six WNIT games, OSU won by an average of 14 points per game.
The Cowgirls were seldom challenged during the entire tournament, running away to six victories.
"I really can't describe it," said Bias. "I don't have the words."
A crowd of 6,157 filled the lower portion of the arena and roared throughout the game.
"It was really emotional to see all of those people," said Young. "It means a lot to us to have all of that support."
Oklahoma State was considered the "first team out" when the NCAA Tournament bracket was announced.
That was the start of this uplifting story of patience and persistence.
"This was a special effort from a lot of girls," said Littell.
As the seconds ticked off the final minute of the game there were few dry eyes in OSU's historic basketball arena.
"After everything that happened, the girls could have just said it has been a rough year and we'll start over next year," said Littell. "They didn't do that.
"These kids just wouldn't quit."
The OSU Cowgirls celebrate after defeating the James Madison Dukes at the women's WNIT championship basketball game at the Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater. JAMES GIBBARD / Tulsa World