It was the biggest basketball game of their careers.
Cowgirl basketball freshmen Tali Notoa, Lexy Keys and Taylen Collins each played in their first NCAA Tournament with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line.
The Cowgirls fell to the top overall seeded Stanford Cardinal, Tuesday night, 73-62, but all three players responded well to the largest spotlight they’ve ever stepped in.
“They played the number one seed, one of the best teams in the country and those kids were unfazed. They played great,” OSU coach Jim Littell said.
Against the Cardinal, the freshman were the ones carrying the Cowgirls for large stretches of time. Notoa scored a career-high 14 points. Keys missed only one shot the entire night and finished with 12 points. Collins impacted the game with five rebounds and three steals in only 18 minutes of play.
They played with what Littell described as a “slow heartbeat,” letting the game come to them rather than the other way around. It is a mindset usually found in more experienced players.
“We told our freshmen a couple weeks ago, ‘You’re not freshmen anymore, you’ve played a lot and you’re like sophomores now,’ and I think they responded to that,” Littell said.
It’s not been an accident that when the lights were brightest, the first year players responded with equally shining performances.
“They really stepped up,” senior Natasha Mack said. “At first, they were a little timid and I told them ‘we can’t have that on the court, you have to be strong, you have to be tough.’ So, I kind of bullied them a little bit to make them better.”
The three young Cowgirls, Notoa, Keys and Collins, all played well in the NCAA Tournament finale of OSU women’s basketball but were equally important in the road to getting there.
“Those three kids were all very integral parts of what we did this year did this year,” Littell said.