KANSAS CITY, Mo.— Ja’Mee Asberry turned away in disgust.
Although she finished the night in triumphant fashion — hoisted on the shoulders of her teammates after an 89-80 overtime victory against Oklahoma— the start to her game, and OSU’s, was anything but glorious.
Asberry, an elite scorer and the Big 12 leader in 3-pointers, struggled early in the game.
The Cowgirls got down by as much as 15 against the Sooners and were trailing for the majority of the game.
OSU started off ice-cold from the field, making just one of their 15 attempted 3-pointers in the first half.
The shooting struggles gripping the entire Cowgirl team in the first half were epitomized by a sequence with 1:22 left in the first half. A struggling Ja’Mee Asberry got to the free throw line with her team down by 12. She badly needed to see the ball go through the net.
Both free throws clanged harmlessly off the rim — no good.
The junior point guard turned away immediately, looking distraught as she ran on defense. But that would be the final straw.
Asberry dribbled to her left the next time she got the ball and shot a baseline jumper.
“Once I hit that first shot in the first half I went to the locker room and said, ‘We’re done,’” Asberry said. “I just needed to see one go in and they all went in from there.”
She missed her first 11 shots but that bucket before the half was a precursor to an incredible second half for the Cowgirls. They simply would not quit.
“Very proud of our kids,” coach Jim Littell said. “We played really bad in the first half, to be honest…But we have got a lot of high-character kids… and that's why you keep playing. You never quit no matter how bad it looks, just tremendous effort.
OSU scored 66 points after halftime. Their blitz was galvanized by a couple of stellar performances.
“We had five people in double figures,” Littell said. “Ja'Mee had two at halftime and finished with 28. That was an unbelievable performance in the second half.”
Senior forward Natasha Mack scored 20 points to go along with 16 rebounds and dominated inside the paint all night.
Sophomore guard Lauren Fields was a critical piece of the OSU lineup, tallying twelve points, six rebounds and four assists, and freshman forward Taylen Collins only missed one shot in a 10 point, eight rebounds performance.
“Our kids hung in there and didn't get down,” Littell said. “This is a big lesson for not only us, but just the way you approach things in life, that you never give up and you keep grinding and staying after it.”
Even players with a smaller share of minutes contributed in a big way. Kassidy De Lapp had eight rebounds and 11 points on extremely efficient shooting
“Kassidy was unbelievable tonight,” Littell said. “Every phase of the game she was really, really good.”
Every Cowgirl seemed to play with a boost in the second half. OSU all but erased a second-half double-digit deficit with their late game performance, but the Sooners kept fighting.
Both teams had a chance to win the game at the end of regulation.
Sooner sophomore guard Gabby Gregory got an open look in the corner, but traveled with three seconds left. That gave OSU the chance to break the tie.
Littell drew up a masterful play to spring Asberry for an open three with a second left, but the shot was just too strong, sending the final quarterfinal game of the night into overtime.
The Cowgirls ran away with the game in the extra period, riding a boost of energy from the seven white-clad players on the bench that remained in a constant state of standing, towel slapping and yelling.
Asberry finished with 28 points, including a few huge baskets in overtime to ice the game. She entered the second half with just two points but helped the Cowgirls close heroically, and exited the game in a more pleasant way – on the shoulders of her teammates.
“I was scared because I'm afraid of heights,” Asberry said. “I thought they were going to drop me.”