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Hobbs shines in NCAA Tournament win against Syracuse

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OSU vs. Syracuse WBB: Jaden Hobbs

Jaden Hobbs shoots a 3-pointer against Syracuse on March 15, 2018 in Starkville, Mississippi at The Hump. (DEVIN LAWRENCE WILBER/O'Colly)

STARKVILLE, Ms. – Jaden Hobbs called it a heat check. Catching a pass from Loryn Goodwin on the right wing, Hobbs stepped up in rhythm and swished a deep 3-pointer.

After making her fourth consecutive long-distance shot, Hobbs gave a sly look to the Syracuse bench as she ran back on defense in the third quarter. All the shots went in during a two-minute span and helped propel the Oklahoma State women’s basketball team to an 84-57 victory against Syracuse at Humphrey Coliseum, advancing it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament to play Mississippi State at 8 p.m. Monday.

OSU (21-10) has never had a performance like this from Hobbs. Hobbs, a redshirt freshman, tore her ACL in an exhibition game in 2016, but she made a comeback and has made an impact in valuable minutes this season, especially Saturday.

Thinking about the sequence and her performance, OSU coach Jim Littell reflected on Hobbs’ progression. He described it, sitting in front of a packed media room.

“It has been a challenge to get her to shoot the ball and to get her where she needs to be confidence wise, but we have always had faith in her,” Littell said. “(She) is a young lady who won three state championships in high school and was Oklahoma Player of the Year. She has had a struggle coming off of the knee injury, and sometimes it takes a while. She picked a good night to break out.

“She hasn’t had games like this, guys. I am not going to pretend. She had an incredible night tonight, but it has always been (possible).”

In her first complete season, Hobbs, from Alva, averaged four points per game, but against Syracuse (22-9), she finished with a career-high 27 points on 8-of-9 shooting from the 3-point line, breaking the record Liz Donohoe set in 2013 for the most made for a game in program history. 

Also, Hobbs hadn’t scored more than 12 points before Saturday. Although she said the moment and her performance was surreal, Hobbs said she felt as if she could have a performance like this. 

“The confidence really flew once I hit the first one,” Hobbs said. “It was exciting. It was fun.”

Kaylee Jensen, a senior center who has been looked at as the go-to player, said it was amazing to witness the 3-point shooting flurry from Hobbs in the third quarter. She said the enthusiasm from the bench made the moment more exciting. 

Jensen finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds, but she was more excited for her teammate.

“I have actually grown really close to Jaden,” Jensen said. “It is fun to watch people you really care about and love have so much success in the things they do.”

OSU started quickly after the ball was tipped, but Syracuse made a run fueled with its trapping 2-3 zone, full-court pressure defense and fast-paced offense.

Tiana Mangakahia, a sophomore guard and the NCAA assist leader at 9.9 per game, used her dribbling and passing skills to find Miranda Drummond open for 3-pointers. Drummond finished with a team-high 24 points on 7-of-12 shooting from the 3-point line.

However, OSU answered, ending the first half on an 11-0 run, including a 3-pointer from Maria Castro. It continued to find its niche in the game after halftime, including Goodwin, a senior, who finished with 19 points, eight assists and five steals, playing stifling defense on Mangakahia and finding Hobbs for 3-pointers.

After making her first and missing her second, Hobbs made seven straight 3-pointers, including five in the third quarter. It made a close game turn into a seemingly insurmountable deficit for Syracuse. OSU ended shooting 13-of-23 on 3-pointers, but Littell said he pondered a game-plan change during halftime. 

“At halftime, I thought we had shot too many 3s,” Little said. “I look down and see that we were 6-for-14, so I said I am going to shut up and not over coach. Our kids got on a roll, and I am glad that I didn’t say anything.

“... We played as good as we could possibly play.”