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Going Dancing: Cowgirls learn road to Final Four

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Phillips 66 Big 12 Women's Basketball Championship, March 13, 2021

Oklahoma State and West Virginia compete during the Phillips 66 Big 12 Women's Basketball Championship at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Missouri on March 13, 2021. (Scott D. Weaver/Big 12 Conference)

Cowgirl coach Jim Littell, Natasha Mack and Ja'Mee Asberry speak to the media after OSU's announced No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

For the first time since 2018, the Oklahoma State Cowgirls are going to the NCAA Tournament.

OSU took advantage of its schedule, finishing tied for second place in the Big 12. The Cowgirls also managed to earn the most conference wins of any Cowgirls team in school history.

That only amounted to a Big 12 semifinal defeat to current 4-seed West Virginia, after the Cowgirls escaped in the quarterfinal against Oklahoma in overtime.

Now, the Cowgirls know their NCAA Tournament fate.

A trip to San Antonio as the 8-seed to face 9-seed Wake Forest in the Round of 64. The draw offers an intriguing matchup. Now the competition becomes fierce.

Playing the potential villain

For most of the season, OSU seemed like the underdog. Natasha Mack and Ja’Mee Asberry led the Cowgirls to defy the underdog label as they took the Big 12 by storm in an improbable run.

OSU began the season projected to finish eighth in the conference, they didn’t. Coach Jim Littell earned Big 12 Coach of the Year, stemming from the Cowgirls overachievements.

Their first NCAA Tournament foe might steal that tag. Wake Forest will make its first tournament appearance in 33 years, getting in with a 12-12 record after losing to Louisville in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals.

The Demon Deacons have four players averaging double-figures in scoring. The group is led by seniors Ivana Raca (16.8) and Gina Conti (14). Raca is listed as a forward, making for an interesting individual matchup with Mack.

First round, then first seed

Assuming the Cowgirls survive the dreaded 8-9 matchup, the probable opponent will be the Stanford Cardinal. The strength of the top seeds is no secret. That remains the case with Stanford.

The Cardinal boast a winning history, with recent tournament runs to the Final Four (2017), Sweet 16 (2018) and Elite 8 (2019). All three runs finished with losses to No. 1 seeds.

Stanford is the clear favorite out of the Alamo region and should be the toughest test OSU has faced. Make it through them, and a test against Arkansas could be next. The Razorbacks notably beat Baylor in the Big 12-SEC Challenge.

The Bottom Half

OSU doesn’t share a region with any Big 12 schools. That means less familiarity within their region. If everything goes the Cowgirls way, the elite 8 opponent could be one OSU hasn’t played recently.

Big names in the bottom of the bracket include No. 2 Louisville, No. 6 Oregon and No. 3 Georgia.

The Cowgirls aren’t going to be caught off guard with Oregon or Louisville. OSU faced both in the 2019 Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

It’ll be a challenge for the Cowgirls to make the Sweet 16. Now that the bracket is out, that road is at least realized. Now, it’s in the Cowgirls’ hands on just how far they will go.

Full Alamo Region:

No. 1 Stanford vs. No. 16 Utah Valley

No. 8 Oklahoma State vs. No. 9 Wake Forest

No. 5 Missouri State vs. No. 12 UC Davis

No. 4 Arkansas vs. No. 13 Wright State

No. 6 Oregon vs. No. 11 South Dakota

No. 3 Georgia vs. No. 14 Drexel

No. 7 Northwestern vs. No. 10 UCF

No. 2 Louisville vs. No. 15 Marist