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Cowgirls head to West Virginia in tussle for third place

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OSU vs. West Virginia Women's Basketball

Roddricka Patton defends in the game the Cowgirls won 63-51 against West Virginia in Gallagher-Iba Arena on Feb. 13.

It’s all on the line.

Saturday at 6 p.m., Oklahoma State heads to West Virginia for a game that’s full of implications. Not only are the Cowgirls playing for sole possession of third place in the conference, but they’re also trying to get that elusive four seed in the NCAA Tournament.

It’s not going to be easy, though.

The Mountaineers are 12-2 at home and want the chance to host two NCAA games on their court as well. Bria Holmes is a sniper and OSU (20-7 overall, 10-6 Big 12) has had trouble recently guarding the 3-point shot.

Although the Cowgirls won handily in their previous matchup on Feb. 13, OSU has gone 1-2 since then. OSU coach Jim Littell said opponents have become more aggressive defensively and forced the Cowgirls to play smarter.

“At this point in the season, they’ve turned up the pressure,” Littell said. “And for you to be successful against West Virginia, you’ve got to take care of the basketball. You can’t expose the basketball, and you’ve got to be ball-strong.”

One bad pass from OSU and the Mountaineers (21-8, 10-6) snatch third place away. The Cowgirls would go from playing Kansas State in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament next week to playing Oklahoma.

“I hope we win this game, I really do,” Brittney Martin said. “Not depending on who we play in the tournament, it’s because in the past few years, we’ve ended exactly the same. We lose. We have a chance to be in second and third, and we lose.

“ I want to finish this year strong.”

The Cowgirls will have to work on limiting turnovers and beat the Mountaineers in the post. They had success against WVU last time by using Katelyn Loecker defensively to stop Holmes driving in the paint.

Loecker drew four fouls in the contest and was instrumental in keeping Holmes in foul trouble. She will have to play the role of defensive stopper again.

“We’ve got to play our best defense of the season,” Loecker said. “It’s make it or break it, we don’t want to tie with anybody.”

OSU has overachieved all season. Nobody thought this team, slotted for eighth in the preseason, would be in a fight for third place and ranked No. 22 nationally. Martin said the Cowgirls haven’t finished strong in recent years, and the record reflects that. However, unlike recent years, they have the upper hand.

Although Littell said the team isn’t looking too far into the future and seeding implications, the future isn’t that far off, and this penultimate game will go a long way in determining what it holds.

“Every year I’ve been here, we’ve just been praying to get into the tournament,” Martin said. “This year, I know we’re in it. … If we win these next two games and a couple in the Big 12 tournament, I think we get that four seed.”

sports@ocolly.com