By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
It’s a tough assignment, but West Virginia University’s women’s basketball team will try to take out its frustrations on the road against No. 11/12 Oklahoma State in the final game of the first half of its initial Big 12 season.
The Mountaineers are 11-8 overall and 3-5 in Big 12 play, carrying a three-game losing streak into the Oklahoma State game.
But they have played far better than their record, which has led to the frustrations they feel.
“This is very frustrating,” center Ayana Dunning said following a four-point home loss to Iowa State in which they blew another halftime lead. “We have lost five games by a total of 12 points, if my math is right. We’re right there.”
While they had a rough go with Baylor, which may be the nation’s top team, their last four losses other than that game have been by a combined 12 points.
“They’re obviously games we can win,” Dunning continued. “We’re just letting little things beat us. It’s just not concentrating or not buckling down.”
It’s the same feeling coach Mike Carey has. He has gotten his team primed to play; the Mountaineers have rushed to leads; they have played hard ... but they haven’t been able to sustain the kind of play that has put them in a position to win.
Both in an overtime loss to Texas Tech and a late loss to Iowa State, they let victory slip through their grasp with difficult second halves, scoring just 15 points in the second half against Iowa State.
“That’s all we talked about for three days now. Executing, staying focused for 40 minutes,” Carey admitted after the Iowa State game.
And even Monday, as the team was leaving for tonight’s game against the Cowboys, Carey was talking about how close this team is to winning these games that have slipped away.
“We just can’t get over the hump,” he said. “In this league you have to play for 40 minutes. We keep stressing that. We’re just not doing that right now.”
Oklahoma State will be a difficult assignment.
“I think they are right behind Baylor in talent,” Carey said, offering high praise.
The Cowgirls are very difficult to beat in Stillwater, and have only a 64-59 loss in the conference opener to Texas Tech as a smear on their home record.
Oklahoma State is ranked in the top 10 in six statistical categories nationally, including scoring offense, scoring margin, field-goal percentage, rebound margin, assists per game and assist-turnover ratio.
Oklahoma State has four players averaging double-figure scoring numbers in Big 12 play this season, led by Toni Young’s 15 points per game. Young is also the Cowgirls’ leading rebounder with 9.4 boards per game and 12 blocks this season in Big 12 play. In all games, Young averages 17.2 points and 9.8 rebounds per game.
Liz Donohoe (15.8 ppg), Tiffany Bias (12.2 ppg) and Brittney Martin (9.6) round out the top four scorers. Donohoe leads the nation from the free-throw line, converting 96.9 percent (62-64) and is perfect from the line (24-24) in Big 12 games. Donohoe also is very strong from 3-point range, collecting 40 threes this season, on 37.4 percent shooting (40-107).
Bias gets the ball where it needs to be, recording 127 assists this season, with 46 assists in Big 12 play. Kendra Suttles is a spark off the bench, averaging 7.2 points in all games and 6.3 points in conference-only games. Suttles shoots 50 percent (18-36) from the field in conference-only games and 54.8 percent overall.
Junior guards Christal Caldwell and Taylor Palmer lead WVU in scoring with 12.6 and 11.5 points per game, respectively. In Big 12-only games, Caldwell and Palmer each average 13.9 points per game as WVU’s leading scorers. Palmer is shooting a league-leading 46.2 percent (24-52) from 3-point range in conference games. Dunning led WVU in the last game with 17 points and rounds out the top three scorers with 10.3 points per game.
Dunning continues to lead the Mountaineers in rebounding with 6.3 rebounds per game, while sophomore Crystal Leary is just behind her with 5.5 boards per game. In league-only games, sophomore Averee Fields guides the team on the glass as she has 5.6 rebounds a game, which is the 16th-highest average in all league play. Assisting in defensive play, Jess Harlee averages 1.9 steals per league outing, tied for the seventh-highest average in the league.
WVU and Oklahoma State are tied at 1-1 in the all-time series. In the last outing, Oklahoma State defeated WVU, 95-62, on Dec. 29, 2000, in Stillwater.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.