Burst of energy in third quarter helps Cowgirls win on “Remember the 4” night

OSU Women's' basketball vs UC Riverside 12

Vivian Gray fires a three-pointer in Gallagher-Iba Arena.

Thursday’s game for the Oklahoma State women’s basketball team featured a remembrance and a career milestone.

The Cowgirls’ high-powered offense in the third quarter led them past Prairie View A&M 70-50 at Gallagher Iba Arena during “Remember the Four” night.

Saturday will mark the seventh anniversary of the “Remember the Four” plane crash.

Before tipoff, OSU paid respect to the four who lost their lives.

On Nov. 17, 2011, a plane carrying former Cowgirl basketball coach Kurt Budke, former assistant coach Miranda Serna and Olin and Paula Branstetter crashed while coming back from Arkansas after a recruiting trip.

Thursday, players, coaches and personnel donned shirts with a big orange “4” in the middle with the date of the tragedy inside it.

The “Remember the Four” tribute featured not a moment of silence but a moment of celebration as everyone in GIA stood up and cheered, honoring the lives lost.

Coach Jim Littell, whose game attire usually consists of a black sports jacket and black dress shirt, wore the “Remember the Four” shirt for the entire game. The victory against Prairie View was Littell’s 150th win as coach of the women’s basketball team.

The Lady Panthers came off a hot opening night with an 85-point blowout against Jarvis Christian.

In the first quarter, the Cowgirls (3-0) had a quick start on defense. After OSU scored its first points, it set up a halfcourt press to attempt to trap the Lady Panthers.

With either a score or a dead ball to the opposing team, the Cowgirls transitioned to 2-2-1 press with sophomore guard Braxtin Miller at the head of the formation.

Littell wasn’t pleased with the Cowgirls when they tried to trap the Lady Panthers (1-1).

“We had some trapped areas where we didn’t get the trapped in,” Littell said. “(Pressing) is something we can get better at and work on.”

Mariam Gnanou, a junior center from the Ivory Coast, received her first start of the season in place of freshman Kassidy de Lapp.

OSU had a great size advantage against the Lady Panthers. Prairie View has three players above 6 feet, but the Cowgirls have eight.

Gnanou used her 6-foot-5-inch frame to her advantage on offense and defense.

“I thought Mariam stepped up and played really well tonight,” Littell said. “She’s a young lady that has practiced really well ... This is a game where there’s a lot of justice involved, and she’s worked hard at her game.”

OSU and Prairie View had trouble on offense in the first quarter. The Cowgirls went 2-for-13 from the field and gave up four turnovers.

The bulk of the Cowgirls’ points came from the foul line. Prairie View fouled OSU eight times in the first quarter, and the Cowgirls connected on eight of 11 from the line.

OSU’s offensive struggles continued in the second quarter. The 3-point shot was nonexistent for the Cowgirls, who went 0-for-6 in the half.

Gnanou had the most efficient stretch of scoring in the half with nine points in under five minutes.

For the rest of the Cowgirls, the ball could not find its way in the hoop.

“We made some adjustments on our offense because they weren’t letting us cut where we want to cut,” Latashia Jones, a senior forward, said. “We looked at some different options and different plays to help us out.”

The Lady Panthers began to use the full-court press in the second half, attempting to throw the Cowgirls off balance. When the Cowgirls broke the press, the had a wide-open lane to the hoop.

The Cowgirls’ offense started to pick up in the first five minutes of the second half. Five Cowgirls scored in that time and extended the score to 39-26.

Sophomore forward Vivian Gray added 13 points in the third period, finishing with a game-high 23 points.

“I kinda calmed down more and got into the flow of the game,” Gray said.

After a flurry of field goals late in the third quarter, OSU started to pull away from the Lady Panthers.

OSU’s offensive strength started to quiet in the fourth period, but the Cowgirls added points to their lead and limited the Lady Panthers on the floor.

Gnanou continued her dominance with four quick points and an assist to senior forward Maria Castro, and that garnered a standing ovation from her teammates and the crowd.

OSU finished the matchup strong, allowing only 15 points for the Lady Panthers in the fourth quarter.

The Cowgirls scored 43 points in the second half compared to 26 in the first. Their ability to stay disciplined and not commit fouls was key to their victory.

One-hundred and fifty victories is a monumental milestone in a coach’s career. For Littell, it’s just another win in the book.

The Cowgirls will have a six-day rest until their next game against Samford on Wednesday at home.

“You saw some positive things,” Littell said. “There were some nice pieces to the puzzle, but we got to get them all together.”

sports.ed@ocolly.com