The Oklahoma State Cowgirls saw their hard work rewarded on Monday.
OSU was selected as a No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament, quite an accomplishment for the team picked to finish eighth in the Big 12 preseason poll
OSU will play Wake Forest, a 9-seed, in the first round of the tournament. The teams will battle for the right to, in all likelihood, take on top-seeded Stanford in the second round.
Wake Forest is making its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1988. The Cowgirls are hoping history does not repeat itself, as the ’88 Demon Deacons were victorious as a 9-seed, knocking off No. 8 Villanova.
Wake Forest sports a 12-12 overall record coming into their match with the Cowgirls. Although they play in the difficult ACC, the Demon Deacons managed to pick up wins against North Carolina, Florida State, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech — all tournament teams.
For OSU, the scouting work started right after the matchup was announced, but the Cowgirls plan to rely on the style of play that earned them an at-large bid.
“We’ll prepare for the way they play and the way we need to guard them but we’re not going to change the way we play at this point,” coach Jim Littell said. “We want to play fast paced and then we want to make sure that we play the game inside out.”
While the unpredictable nature of the tournament meant the Cowgirls are coming in with minimal knowledge of their first-round opponent, the players who will be significant factors for Wake Forest are predictable.
The Demon Deacons have five players averaging over 25 minutes a game.
Two of those players, senior forward Ivana Raca and junior forward Christina Morra, are 6-foot-2 and will probably be matched up against 6-foot-4 OSU forward Natasha Mack. That matchup will be critical in determining the outcome of the game.
“We’ll go work on those people tonight and get a scouting report and try to get video as quick as we can,” Littell said. “It’s hard to predict who you’re playing so the work will come tonight.”
Wake Forest has a similar backcourt to OSU’s. Both teams have experienced veterans that are top scoring threats — junior Ja’Mee Asberry for OSU and senior Gina Conti for Wake Forest.
Freshman Jewel Spear and sophomore Alexandria Scruggs are both younger guards for Wake that have been significant contributors.
Spear leads the team in 3-pointers and both players could match up with the even younger OSU freshman trio of Lexy Keys, Taylen Collins and Nefertali Notoa.
Historically, games with eight and nine seeds have been extremely even. Both OSU and Wake Forest have had solid seasons and could be the team moving to the round of 32, where Stanford likely lurks.
“It’s one game at a time,” senior forward Natasha Mack said. “You’ve got to focus on the first one to get to the next one.”