Key plays in key moments make the difference in basketball games and on Sunday, Oklahoma State couldn't make a single one.
The Cowgirls pushed Baylor to the limit on Sunday, but were unable to dethrone the Lady Bears, as Baylor advanced to Monday night's title game with a 65-61 win over the Cowgirls.
The action was nip and tuck the whole game and the physicality was off the charts. It wasn't exactly pretty basketball, either; a product of a round-robin conference schedule followed by a conference tournament where any team can beat another.
"It's a grind out there," Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. "You've got to play everybody in this league and to come out here and have to do it in a conference tournament again, it's just a grind and it may not look very good. I don't imagine that game was very enjoyable to watch on TV."
Ultimately, the difference on Sunday was Oklahoma State's inability to put the ball in the basket. The Cowgirls (23-8) shot just 35.5 percent for the game and missed seven free throws. OSU especially struggled in the first half, when it shot a measly 26.7 percent, a product of solid Baylor (28-4) defense and poor shot selection.
"We've played them twice already just like any other team," Baylor's Makenzie Robertson said. "We know their strengths and weaknesses, so we just tried to capitalize on it."
Baylor wasn't much better, as the Lady Bears hit on just 40.6 percent of their shots and leading scorer Odyssey Sims, who came in averaging 28.7 points this season, scored 17 points on 6-of-22 shooting and didn't hit a 3-pointer. Nina Davis led the Lady Bears with 18 points and 12 rebounds, while Robertson finished with 13 points.
Oklahoma State had just two players in double figures as Brittney Martin and Kendra Suttles both scored 11 points. Martin added 15 rebounds, but scored just two points after halftime. Four other players scored at least eight points for the Cowgirls.
"I look at it, and we shot 35 percent and we're within four," OSU coach Jim Littell said. "You've got to make more shots to beat a team like Baylor."
Baylor led for the entire game minus a 20-second stretch in the first two minutes of the game, but never led by more than nine. Even though OSU was unable to make shots in the first half, the Lady Bears were unable to pull away, thanks to the solid defense of the Cowgirls.
In the second half, it was the opposite scenario, as the Cowgirls couldn't get key stops but Baylor continued to be unable to hit shots to put Oklahoma State away.
OSU drew within two points at 52-50 with 8:19 to play on a layup from Kendra Suttles. However, Baylor came right back down the floor and got a 3-pointer from Robertson to push the lead back to five. Oklahoma State drew within three points on two more occasions, but was unable to get over the hump, a point of frustration for the Cowgirls after the game.
"I think that was our fault on our end of the court," OSU point guard Tiffany Bias said. "I think when we have the momentum on our side we need to slow down and keep that momentum on our side. I think we learned from it today that slow the ball up when we don't have something and get a good shot on our offense."
The Cowgirls are going to get a high seed in the NCAA tournament when the field is announced, but the week off between Sunday and the tournament selection will give Oklahoma State ample time to recover from the grind of Big 12 conference play.
"We gave some days off prior to this tournament and I think we had a lot more pep in our step," Littell said. "We seemed rejuvenated.
"We've got to get some time off, get these kids rested up, get healed up a little bit. You're not going to teach them that much more; you've just got to have fresh minds and fresh bodies."
The grind of Big 12 play was on full display Sunday, but the Cowgirls didn't come out on the right side of it. For now, Oklahoma State will look toward a new season and hope it will be as successful as the first.