Chattanooga-Oklahoma St. Preview
Oklahoma State star Andrea Riley has waited two years to play in the NCAA tournament again.
Because of an incident in her previous appearance, the senior guard will have to wait one more game.
The fourth-seeded Cowgirls won't have the nation's third-leading scorer when they make their third tournament appearance in four years Saturday against No. 13 seed Chattanooga in Tempe, Ariz.
In coach Kurt Budke's first season at Oklahoma State in 2005-06, the program endured its fourth straight campaign with eight victories or fewer and an 0-16 finish in the Big 12. Budke, however, quickly began turning around the Cowgirls' fortunes by signing Riley out of Dallas' Lincoln High School.
That signing paid off almost immediately as she led Oklahoma State to its first 20-win season and first NCAA tournament appearance since 1995-96. The next season, the Cowgirls reached the regional semifinals, but that run ended with a 67-52 loss to LSU.
In her frustration, Riley took a swipe at the Tigers' Erica White in the second half of that game, and the NCAA issued a one-game suspension for her next NCAA appearance. With a 17-16 record in 2008-09, Oklahoma State missed the tournament and played instead into the NIT's second round.
"I'm not going to mope in my sorrow," Riley said. "I'm just going to say, 'Yeah, I wish I was out there.'"
The question for the Cowgirls is how to make up for Riley's 26.6 points per game. Senior forward Tegan Cunningham (16.2 ppg) is the only other player averaging in double figures.
Riley accounted for 57 percent of her team's points this season and is seventh nationally with 6.5 assists per contest. The Big 12's all-time leading scorer (2,804 points) had also averaged 37.3 points while playing every minute of her team's three conference tournament games, including a record-setting 43 against Iowa State.
Budke has used backups Ally Clardy, Desiree Jeffries and Carolyn Blair-Mobley in the rotation recently in anticipation of his star's suspension. Lakyn Garrison, Riley's backcourt teammate, could also run the point.
"We've got to find a way to win one game," Budke said. "Obviously, you're talking about someone that is in control of 80 percent of our offense most of the time. But the girls have known this was coming for a long time."
Chattanooga, meanwhile, is expected to have its top player available for its eighth NCAA tournament appearance in 10 years - two-time Southern Conference player of the year Shanara Hollinquest.
The senior forward, who led the SoCon with a career-best 17.1 points and 8.9 rebounds per game this season, helped the Mocs (24-8) to their 11th consecutive regular-season title and 13th all-time conference tournament crown. Senior guard Jenaya Wade-Fray is the only other player scoring in double figures (13.2).
Coach Wes Moore knows that his team still faces a challenge even without Riley on the floor. The Mocs have dropped nine of 10 all-time NCAA tournament games with the lone win coming over Rutgers in 2004.
"They have a lot of great players at that level, so I am sure that they will have someone that is adequate to step in," he said.
This is the first meeting between Oklahoma State and Chattanooga.