For coach Jim Littell, No. 19 Oklahoma State is about to enter a brand new season: The one without Baylor star Brittney Griner in it.
Griner had 30 points, 10 rebounds and a career-high seven assists to lead the top-ranked Bears to their 18th straight win, 81-62 over Oklahoma State on Saturday night.
"We told our players that we start a new season tomorrow. It's the second half of the Big 12 and we need to be locked in and compete that way against everyone," Littell said. "And if we do that, then we'll be fine."
Even a strong outing by the Cowgirls (15-5, 4-5 Big 12) that created some concerns on the part of Baylor coach Kim Mulkey wasn't nearly enough to keep the defending national champions from stretching their record Big 12 winning streak to 32 games.
Baylor's first nine wins in conference play this season came by a remarkable margin of 25 points, so this one was below average by those standards.
"I can't look at final score and go, 'Wow, we won another one by 20.' You know, I've got to coach," said Mulkey, pursuing her third national title. "You're not going to win many games having 20 turnovers. You're not going to win many basketball games when you have them getting 22 offensive boards.
"If you're going to be the No. 1 team in the country, then you need to play like it. I just didn't think that we played like it tonight."
Mulkey called timeout and put her five starters back on the floor with 10:03 remaining, just after Liz Donohoe's scoop shot put Oklahoma State up 21-16. A decisive 18-2 burst came immediately afterward.
"Coach was on us about being down five. We didn't have any intensity and we didn't have no energy," Sims said. "We tried our best to just pick it up."
Griner had three baskets and also assisted on a 3-pointer by Jordan Madden and Kimetria Hayden's layup during the stretch, which featured two shot-clock violations by the Cowgirls. Odyssey Sims stretched the lead to 34-23 with a steal that led to a three-point play.
"We were in there the whole time. It's just that little spurt where we couldn't hit shots and our offense wasn't working to our advantage," said Oklahoma State's Tiffany Bias, who had 13 points and six assists. "That happens, and we didn't react as quick as we should have."
Baylor didn't even bother to warm up before the second half, then scored the first seven points to push the lead to 44-26 on Brooklyn Pope's fast-break layup.
Oklahoma State scored 14 of its first 19 points in the second half off of second chances, keeping it just close enough that Mulkey could never get her starters much rest. Griner came out once, but was back up off the bench less than a minute later when the Cowgirls got layups from Toni Young and Donohoe to pull within 62-49 without the 6-foot-8 phenom protecting the rim.
But for the game, Oklahoma State attempted 22 more shots than Baylor while making six less baskets. On one possession, Lyndsey Keller missed a point-blank layup, got the rebound and then missed again right under the basket.
"If you're going to compete against these people, you've not only got to hit open shots, you've got to hit some tough shots. You've got to hit some contested shots because there's going to be a lot of those," Littell said.
As she did much of the game, Griner effortlessly caught a lob in the lane, turned around and sank a mid-range jumper with no one tall enough to really contest the high pass or her shot. She then pitched the ball out to Sims for a 3-pointer and the Bears' lead was back up to 69-53.
Griner, a senior, had never before had more than five assists in a game.
"My teammates did a great job of cutting off of me, and when I got the ball and they came down to double me, I was able to find them," said Griner, who was 12 for 18 from the field and blocked three shots.
Donohoe led the Cowgirls with 24 points, one off her season best. Freshman Brittney Martin had 12 rebounds, half of them on the offensive end.
The Bears' 22 offensive rebounds allowed were a season high and the 20 turnovers were their most in Big 12 and tied for their second-most all season. The defending national champions have still won each of their Big 12 games by at least 15 points.
That includes an 83-49 victory over Oklahoma State in Waco last month. So, the Cowgirls won't see Baylor again at least until the Big 12 tournament, while trying to get out of the middle of the pack in the conference standings and earn a trip to the NCAA tournament.
Last season, they barely missed and ended up winning the Women's NIT.
"I think we saw glimpses of a team that we could be and that we should be and I saw a team where we didn't finish as we should have," Bias said. "We expect a lot more of ourselves."