Cowgirls Plan On Hanging Around This Time

It was no secret following a late push last year that included a key road victory at Kansas State and still the uncertainty of whether their name would be called on "selection Monday," the Oklahoma State Cowgirls were just happy to go to EastLlansing, Mich., and be part of the backdrop for the NCAA Tournament.

Their fade away in the last 10 minutes against Bowling Green was part of that as the Falcons won 70-66. This season there has been suspense about this team since an early Big 12 season record-breaking sellout crowd of 13,611 packed Gallagher-Iba Arena to see the Cowgirls rock sixth-ranked Oklahoma 82-63. The Cowgirls have been front runners from that point on to their third seed and highest ever in the NCAA's women's version of March Madness.

All the warnings are out, look out for the double-digit seed after what happened in the men's tournament Friday. Look out for East Tennessee State out of the Atlantic Sun Conference after what the ASC men's champion, Belmont, did to Duke on Thursday. The warnings are out but may not need to be because these Cowgirls have heeded warnings and played with a chip on their shoulder all season long. All-American guard and leading scorer Andrea Riley won't ride in anybody's back seat.

"We're looking forward to going all the way," said Riley of the NCAA Tournament. "We're not looking to be one and done, two and done. We are looking to compete with the best and beat the best. As long as we take care of our business and stay locked in, execute our offense and play hard then we'll come out on top."

The Cowgirls defensive stopper and sometimes three-point bomber Taylor Hardeman, along with Shaunte' Smith, is an original member of the turnaround cast under third-year head coach Kurt Budke. Hardeman is special in that Budke came in not thinking she would play, didn't know where the Norman product would fit in. Budke didn't know about her heart and her toughness. Hardeman is now a player that Budke rarely pulls off the floor and she usually gets the other team's top offensive player to guard. Hardeman isn't on a spring break vacation.

"I have a better attitude this time because I knew we were in," said Hardeman. "I'm glad about what our seed is, glad about where we're going, who we're playing. I'm just ready to start winning NCAA games. That should have started last season. The way I see it we are starting from behind and have ground to make up and we will."

Hardeman will have a big role as she will get the defensive assignment on Siarre Evans of the Lady Bucs. Evans averages 13.1 points (disregard the misprint in The Oklahoman) and she is the catalyst of the East Tennessee offense, which averages 75.2 ppg. Evans is not only the leading scorer but the best ball handler, best passer, and best rebounder. This is just the kind of task that Hardeman can sink her defensive teeth into.

Expect either Wiles or Akers to get the defensive assignment on the Cowgirls Riley, and this will be a mismatch. While the Lady Bucs love to run in their offense they don't have anybody with the quickness of Riley. The rest of the matchups are obvious with Smith on DeVault, Green on Wiles or likely Akers, and Cordero and Belcher matched up. This is not a game where you would expect to see a lot of Megan Byford. Instead look for Shyvon Spears and freshman Kristin Hernandez to be Budke's top pair off the pine.

The Cowgirls need to shoot the ball well, make good decisions as to when to run and when to go half court. Minimize turnovers and do their best to control the offensive boards. Both those areas will limit how much East Tennessee can run. Limit their break opportunities and they will be playing out of their comfort zone. Most of all, like any early NCAA game between a high seed and a mid major or low major low seed, they need to take command early. The longer East Tennessee State believes (they can win) the harder it will be to finish the Lady Bucs off.

Game 1 - 2008 NCAA Women's NCAA Basketball Tournament
7 p.m. at Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines, Iowa
(3) Oklahoma State vs. (14) East Tennessee State

Starters
Oklahoma State
Andrea Riley, PG, 5-5, So., 22.9 ppg / 3.5 rpg / 4.1 apg
Taylor Hardeman, G, 5-10, Jr., 7.1 ppg / 2.3 rpg
Danielle Green, G, 5-8, Sr., 13.6 ppg / 7.4 rpg
Shaunte' Smith, F, 6-0, Jr., 9.3 ppg / 8.6 rpg
Maria Cordero, C, 6-3, Sr., 9.3 ppg / 5.9 rpg

E. Tennessee St.
Siarre Evans, PG, 5-11, So., 13.1 ppg / 7.1 rpg / 3.4 apg
TaRonda Wiles, G, 5-10, So., 9.8 ppg / 4.7 rpg
Nichelle Akers, G, 5-10, Sr., 3.4 ppg / 2.6 rpg
Michelle DeVault, F, 5-11, Sr., 12.8 ppg / 4.2 rpg
Latisha Belcher, C, 6-2, So., 10.5 ppg / 6.5 rpg

Tournament History
Oklahoma State
Last Appearance: 2007, losing to (7) Bowling Green 70-66 @ East Lansing, Mich.
9th Appearance (1989, 90, 91, 93, 94, 95, 96, 2007)
All Time Record: 4-8
Highest Seed: 5th in 1991
Furthest Advance: Sweet 16 in 1991 beating DePaul 81-80, Michigan State 96-94 (3OT), losing to Virginia 76-61

East Tennessee State
1st Appearance

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