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Protecting home court, replacing Combs is key for Cowgirls

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Kaylee Jensen

Kaylee Jensen grabs a rebound during a game against UCLA in Gallagher-Iba Arena.

When competing for a championship in a stacked Big 12 conference, winning at home is essential, and Oklahoma State women’s basketball coach Jim Littell knows it.

“If you want to remain in the top of league play and contend for a championship and a run in the NCAA tournament, you gotta win your home games,” Littell said.

The No. 24 Cowgirls' home game Wednesday night is especially important, as OSU welcomes No. 17 West Virginia to Gallagher-Iba Arena. Both teams are seeking their fourth victory in league play and are looking to keep on pace with conference leaders Baylor and Texas. Senior center Kaylee Jensen said the Cowgirls are fired up to play in front of a home crowd.

“You always want to do well in conference, and you never want to have someone come in here and take a win from you on your home court,” Jensen said. “This is a big one, especially coming off a loss.”

That loss Jensen was referring to is the 80-64 defeat last Saturday at the hands of the Kansas State Wildcats. The Cowgirls never led and were beaten in near-dominant fashion, which is something they don’t intend to repeat, especially at home.

Wednesday's game will be the first back in GIA for OSU since its 96-82 Bedlam victory against Oklahoma on Jan. 7, and it will also be the first home game since the Cowgirls found out they lost defensive stalwart Areanna Combs for the rest of the season to injury. Littell said he thinks replacing Combs will have to require team effort.

“It changes the complexion of this team because you lose your best defender (and your) best athlete,” Littell said. “It’s not going to be done by one person. It's got to be done collectively.”

Combs, a day-one starter, averaged 8.5 points and 2.6 assists per game until the injury, but the real test for OSU will come with filling her defensive work. All five of the Mountaineers' starters average double figures in scoring.

“It’s a big deal losing Arie Combs,” Littell said. “You’ve gotta have a plan. Everybody’s gotta pick up and do a little bit more and make up for it: find a way to get another basket, find a way to get a steal, find a way to get a stop and (find out) who’s gonna be the defensive stopper.”

Not only is OSU facing a top-25 test in West Virginia this week, but it will also travel 80 miles south to face OU for the second Bedlam matchup of the season Saturday, making this a big week for the Cowgirls.

sports.ed@ocolly.com