It took a half for the Oklahoma State women's basketball team to kick off the rust, but then the Cowgirls kicked it into high gear to pull away for an 87-56 victory over East Central University Tuesday night in an exhibition contest at Gallagher-Iba Arena.
The Cowgirls held only an 8-point advantage at halftime, with OSU registering nearly as many turnovers (seven) and fouls (nine) as it had field goals (10).
“Last night was just a great experience all the way around. We have a great group of girls, and they fought hard and played with a lot of enthusiasm the whole game,” said East Central interim head coach Emily Holombek.“We knew going into the game that they would expose our deficiencies, and now we know what to correct before our season opener.”
In the second half, the Lady Pokes finally looked like a Division I team expected to make a return trip to the NCAA Tournament facing a Division II program.
“It was a pretty ugly first half. I think we had a lot of kids that were anxious to play, and sometimes you can get a little too worked up to play,” Cowgirls coach Jim Littell said. “I believe you saw in the second half a little more of an indication of our talent level. I'm not really concerned.”
The Cowgirls had five players reach double-digit scoring. Senior point guard Tiffany Bias led the way with 18 points to go with a team-high five assists. Also reaching double figures were Brittany Atkins (16), Liz Donohoe (14), LaShawn Jones (12) and Roshunda Johnson (11).
The shifty Cowgirl players were able to capitalize on the new rule changes that prevent defenders from hand-checking. Despite forward Brittney Martin being sidelined with an ankle injury, Oklahoma State scored 46 points in the paint — largely from dribble penetration.
“It'll help you even more if you can make your free throws at the end of it, but we didn't do that tonight,” Littell said. “But I think people with foot speed and quickness like Tiffany, it's going to cause people a lot of difficulty in guarding her — especially when she gets a head of steam in transition.”
The East Central University squad was already coming into Tuesday's contest with plenty of distractions. The university in Ada has had controversy surrounding its head coach.
Holombek was named the ECU interim women's head basketball coach, replacing veteran head coach Kent Franz, who had been suspended from coaching and teaching responsibilities after being charged with leaving the scene of an accident involving injury.
“I thought they played pretty well all night long. ... I believe in their league, they are going to have a really nice year,” Littell said of the ECU squad. “They've got some kids that could shoot the ball, they were scrappy. ... I know the coaches from East Central should be very proud of the way their kids performed. I thought they did very well tonight.”
The Lady Tigers kept the game closer for the better part of the game, but the absence of Dilan Webster, who fouled out early in the second half, took its toll. Webster, a second-team all-conference player last year, only scored two points.
ECU was led in scoring by junior guard Janee Garza with 12 points and Ashleigh Kelman-Poto with 10. The Lady Tigers also got eight points from Ashley Robison before she too fouled out with just under eight minutes left in the contest.
East Central's final exhibition game is Friday at UTSA (University of Texas at San Antonio). Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Editor's Note: Jason Elmquist is the sports editor for the Stillwater NewsPress … Ada News sports editor Jeff Cali contributed to this report.