STILLWATER, Okla. — The most important facet of the game of basketball to Jim Littell is rebounding.

Littell, Oklahoma State’s seventh-year coach, said there is nothing more crucial to his team’s success than getting rebounds on both sides of the floor and so far this season, the Cowgirls have lacked in that area.

OSU (5-1) has won most of its games by a flurry of shooting that it hadn’t had a year ago, but the shortcomings in rebounding finally reared their head when the Cowgirls’ shooting went cold against No. 12 Tennessee in Cancun, Mexico, last week.

Although the Volunteers are one of the top 5 programs in collegiate women’s basketball, Littell said the Cowgirls had a chance to beat them, but fell too far behind in the first quarter.

“We came out and played tight the first quarter,” Littell said. “We shot 16 percent and we fell behind 24-10 and we were just digging ourselves out of a hole the rest of the way. Basically from the last two minutes of the first quarter to the end of the game, we outplayed them. But you can win or lose a game in the first five minutes and that’s what we did.”

The Volunteers boasted two WNBA talents in seniors Jaime Nared and Mercedes Russell, but despite the double-digit lead OSU spotted them, Tennessee allowed OSU to get within two points three times in the second half. However, the Cowgirls’ inability to get a key offensive rebound or putback never got them over the hump.

OSU is currently outrebounding opponents by four rebounds per game, but were outrebounded by eight against the Volunteers. That coupled with the Cowgirls’ middle-of-the-pack free throw shooting, currently at a 62 percent clip, hurt OSU in clutch time.

“Three times in the second half we cut it to two and you got to take advantage and hit that tough shot to get the score tied and then put the pressure back on them,” Littell said. “It was a learning opportunity for us. It was against a very good team, very athletic team … We’ve got to make sure we come out of the gates better than what we did.”

A way to fix the rebounding woes is to demand more from the Cowgirls’ guard-heavy roster as starting posts Mandy Coleman and Kaylee Jensen are doing most of the heavy lifting right now.

Littell said it doesn’t even have to be the points eithers, but rather his combo guards such as Areanna Combs and Braxtin Miller to get more involved and use their size a la Brittney Martin.

“In the past, a lot of times we have been a team that has averaged 15 to 18 boards a night and we’re not doing that right now so if it doesn’t come natural to our players, they got to think about that and make it a priority,” Littell said.

OSU has a chance to work on the rebounding more against Southern (1-2) at 7 p.m. Thursday night in Gallagher-Iba Arena.

The Cowgirls face the Jaguars before two high-profile games next week against No. 6 Mississippi State and No. 7 UCLA, but Littell said he isn’t overlooking Southern, with the two top 10 teams in the back of his mind right now.

“Honestly I’m just focused on Southern because they played Indiana to 15 at Indiana and to three at Wisconsin,” Littell said. “They played two Big 10 teams very close that have good programs, Indiana especially has a good program. I have no thoughts of the other two yet. It’s preparing and getting ready for Southern.”

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