Can the Cowboys Slay Two More Giants?

Oklahoma State has't had a dominant big man inside since Bryant Reeves in the mid-1990s but that hasn't stopped them from taking down the likes of first-round NBA draft pick Blake Griffin, Cole Aldrich and Craig Brackins in recent seasons. Thus, OSU won't back down when it sets foot on the Bradley Center court Friday night when the Cowboys face Georgia Tech in a first-round NCAA Tournament game.

The Cowboys (22-10) will tip off against the Yellow Jackets (22-12) in a first-round game of the Midwest Regional at about 6:15 p.m.

Oklahoma State defeated Brackins (6-10, 230 pounds) and Iowa State 69-64 on Feb. 17, and also beat the No. 1-ranked Kansas Jayhawks and Aldrich (6-11, 245) by the score of 85-77 on Feb. 27. It was the third time for the Cowboys to defeat the Brackins-led Cyclones and the second time they upset Aldrich and the Jayhawks the past three years. The Cowboys also knocked off Griffin and the Sooners twice during his playing career.

But are the Cowboys ready to face Georgia Tech's inside duo of Gani Lawal (6-9, 234) and Derrick Favors (6-10, 246) in Friday's game? Lawal leads the Yellow Jackets in both scoring (13.1 points per game) and rebounding (8.7) but the freshman Favors isn't far behind with 12.5 points and 8.5 rebounds.

OSU head coach Travis Ford will attempt to combat the inside presence of Lawal and Favors with Matt Pilgrim (6-8, 240), Marshall Moses (6-7, 240) and Obi Muonelo (6-5, 220).

"We have a strong guard oriented team but they have great post men. So I can see our guards having a big role in the game. I can see their big men having a big role in the game," said Muonelo, who averages 13.4 points and 5.1 rebounds for the Cowboys. "It's going to be in the end who makes the most stops, doesn't turn the ball over, and who plays the best defense overall, who is going to win the game.

"We have great coaches and great game plans when we play big men like that," Muonelo said when asked about how the Cowboys have been able to defeat teams with bigger and taller post players in recent seasons. "Whenever we get somebody bigger, we always have a way to either trap the post, what we call reading the post, or having a great way to put pressure on the ball and rotating to the post whenever we get a chance to. We've been doing it for so long we got used to playing defense hard and aggressive when we play somebody big. That's the key to winning the game."

Ford said that the Cowboys won't be intimidated by Lawal or Favors, the No. 1 recruit in the nation when he signed with Georgia Tech a year ago.

"For the most part, when we play especially BCS schools, whether it Big 12 or SEC or ACC schools, we're going to be the smaller team. The last two years, no question about that. We're not the biggest team in the world," said the second-year OSU head coach. "But our guys have figured out how to compete. We've played against some big teams. Kansas was big and Texas was big, and Baylor's big. You go down the line, there's some big teams in the Big 12.

"And our guys, at times they've figured it out and at times we haven't. But we understand going into these situations that we've got to be overachievers, that we're going to have to make up for some lack of height and some different things at some point. And we understand that.

"We just hope maybe on the other side, because we do play a little bit of an unconventional lineup, maybe it can affect the other team a little bit. But we understand it. And I always said you're always going to have limitations. As long as you understand those limitations and you try to scheme as much as you can and try to overcome it and try to do as much as you can to camouflage it, then it shouldn't be that big of a deal, hopefully."

Although Big 12 Player of the Year James Anderson (22.6 points per game) is the player that opposing teams have had to key on throughout the 2009-10 season, Pilgrim has stepped up his game in recent weeks as the transfer from Kentucky seems to have gotten comfortable after a rugged start to the season. He is averaging 11.4 points and 8.3 rebounds in the last 11 games, and is shooting 67.1 percent from the field for the season.

He's ready to face the challenge that Lawal and Favors present for the Cowboys. "No, I'm going to shy away from it [smiling]. I look forward to it. I know they're big, they're strong, but we're strong, too. We've got Marshall and me. Obi ain't no little guy either. We lift weights, too.

"But it should be fun. Like I said it's going to be a challenge. It's just who is going to win. It's going to be a battle," Pilgrim added.

Ford was downplaying the role that Pilgrim could play in Friday matchup during a Thursday afternoon press conference in Milwaukee.

"He might just because we've told him how great those guys are. He's probably tired of hearing it. But Matt's a very humble guy. Extremely humble," said Ford. "I'm sure he wants to play well. But I don't think he looks at it as he's better or anything like that. He's probably just tired of us telling him how great Favors and Lawal and all these guys are.

"And I told him, give respect where respect is due. These guys are very, very good. So that's probably the case. But, yeah, he's important. They're all important. We're a team that we don't play a lot of guys. So it's important that everybody ¬- I've said this all year long we do, we have a great player in James Anderson, I think is the best player in the country.

"And we've got some really good players other than that, some really good players that play around James. But the key for us all year long is make sure everybody else plays well. James has been fairly consistent, and whether it's not all about you can't go back and say if James scores 30 we win or he scores ten we lose. That's not been the case all year long. It's not all indicative on just what James does, because if James scores 15, that probably means he's gotten a lot of attention and he's passed it off to somebody else, which can help us win games as well.

"It's important that Matt plays well. It's important that Keiton (Page) and Obi and these other guys step up, as we say, bring their A game. It's very important."

GoPokes Top Stories