STILLWATER, Okla. – Even after a late-season fade and a lopsided loss against top-ranked Baylor, coach Jim Littell still has postseason hopes for Oklahoma State.
With five games left in the regular season, Littell believes his Cowgirls (13-9, 5-8 Big 12) can rebound from an 83-51 loss to Baylor on Wednesday night and squeeze into the NCAA tournament with three more wins.
"I don't think it's out of possibility right now that eight wins gets you into the NCAA tournament," Littell said afterward.
Oklahoma State has dropped five out of six to put itself in jeopardy of losing a spot on the bracket and now faces back-to-back road games at No. 14 Texas A&M and Kansas State to try and get back on track.
"We've got to make improvement these last three weeks. Right now, I'm looking for us to get better each day in practice, to grow as a basketball team. We're not only building for the game Saturday at College Station but we're building for the rest of the year and we're building for the future," Littell said.
"Most of the year we've started two freshmen, two sophomores and a junior and we've got to get these kids better on a daily basis so we're building for the next few years."
Littell knew it would have taken a superlative performance to knock off Baylor (26-0, 13-0), the only undefeated team left in Division I men's or women's basketball. Brittney Griner had 28 points and 10 rebounds and Kimetria Hayden scored a season-high 20 points to lead the way for the Bears.
"When you play them, you've got to be as close to perfect as possible if you're going to win or be competitive in the game," Littell said. "I think we did some things that are better than what the score showed up but we didn't make shots."
It won't take that same level of perfection for the Cowgirls to reach their goals.
"We have five more games left in this season," said point guard Tiffany Bias, who had eight assists but missed 12 of her 13 shots. "We still have a lot more games that we can accomplish and that are winnable for us. I think just keep our heads up, keep going, stay positive and get the next one."
After Oklahoma State claimed an early 8-6 lead, Griner hit back-to-back jumpers in the lane to launch a 17-2 surge that put the Bears ahead to stay. Griner added a third jumper with a turnaround shot in the lane later in the run, Sims followed with a 3-pointer and Hayden's jumper in the lane made it 23-10 with 11:52 left in the first half.
The Cowgirls were never again within single digits as Baylor pushed its lead to 17 by halftime and led by at least 20 over the final 14 minutes.
Griner had eight points during a 10-0 Baylor run, sinking a jumper as she ran along the left side to make it 55-29 with 14:02 remaining. Her layup in transition pushed it to 72-43 just before she came out one second past the 7-minute mark in the second half.
The rest of the starters filtered out over the next 2 minutes and were replaced by reserves outside the rotation down the stretch.
"Baylor's a good team, so I don't really look at the scoreboard just as long as we're executing plays that coach is calling for us," Bias said. "We did have some good plays that we ran and we executed well. We just couldn't hit open shots tonight."
The Cowgirls ended up making 26 percent and went 6 for 27 from 3-point range against a Baylor defense that allows opponents to shoot only 30.2 percent — the second-best mark in the nation.
The Bears are also first in offensive shooting percentage (48.7) and made 55 percent while holding a 46-16 scoring edge in the paint. The Bears attempted only three 3-pointers — fewer than Oklahoma State tried in its first four possessions.
Taylor Schippers led Oklahoma State (13-9, 5-8) with 11 points and Liz Donohoe scored 10.
"I expect a lot out of them and I'm tough on them at times but they want to be good and I want them to be good," Littell said.
"We're just going to just keep forging ahead and doing everything we can to get better and be sure that the future of Cowgirl basketball is solid."
The Bears easily avoided an upset in an arena that's been unfriendly at times over the years. Baylor had a losing record in Stillwater coming into the game and had teams ranked in the top 5 lose at Oklahoma State twice in the past four years.
Griner made sure there was no chance for history to repeat itself, making 11 of 17 shots and also blocking six on the other end. Hayden provided only the second 20-point game of her career, with the other coming against the Cowgirls two years ago in her first career start.
Hayden became Griner's third teammate to score at least 20 points this season.
"While Brittney gets all the attention — and she should — those other players are outstanding All-Americans and they don't care," coach Kim Mulkey said. "It's about the ring. It's not about individual honors. It's not about how many points you score.
"We're on a mission and we want to get to a Final Four and win a championship. As you saw tonight, we have many weapons."
The blowouts are nothing new for the Bears, who are making an unprecedented rampage through Big 12 play. Each of the Bears' last eight wins have come by at least 20 points.
To put that in perspective, only 14 teams have ever won eight straight regular-season Big 12 games and none made it more than halfway to the Bears' current stretch of 20-point blowouts.
Nebraska (2010) and Oklahoma (2006) had only three wins by that margin during their undefeated runs through Big 12 play. Texas A&M had eight last season on its way to the national title, but never more than three in a row. And when the Bears won it all in 2005, they only beat two Big 12 foes by 20.