WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) Oklahoma State refused to let anything get in the way of Monday night’s celebration.
Not another second-half collapse, not its penchant for alternating wins and losses and certainly not Tiffany Bias’ injury. Instead, the Cowgirls found a way to persevere one more time.
Brittney Martin finished with 20 points and 20 rebounds, LaShawn Jones added 16 points and 12 rebounds, and Oklahoma State reached its first Sweet 16 in six years with a 73-66 win at Purdue.
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”We wanted to win. That sounds silly, but I was going as hard as I could. I was going to get it done,” Martin said after the Cowgirls won their second straight for the first time since January.
It was a sweet victory for a program rocked 2 1/2 years ago by a fatal plane crash that claimed the lives of then head coach Kurt Budke and assistant coach Miranda Serna.
Since then, coach Jim Littell has presided over the best three-season run in school history.
As the Cowgirls (25-8) steadily progressed in the rugged Big 12, they wound up winning the 2012 WNIT for the school’s first postseason tourney title, reached the second round of last year’s NCAA tournament before blowing a double-digit lead in the second half at Duke and are now off to the regional semifinals for the first time since 2008 and the third time in school history. Their 69 wins over that span also are a school record.
Now the fifth-seeded Cowgirls head to Notre Dame for Saturday’s showdown with the top-seeded and undefeated Fighting Irish. Notre Dame advanced with an 84-67 win over Arizona State.
But Oklahoma State’s big win nearly came at a hefty price.
Bias stepped awkwardly on another player’s foot with 14:04 left in the game as Purdue’s Courtney Moses drove to the basket. The Cowgirls’ star point guard stayed down for several minutes, then was carried directly into the locker room.
She didn’t return until the 2:45 mark but the unanimous all-conference selection wasn’t going to miss this one for anything, even though was gingerly lifted by a teammate in the postgame celebration while most of the other players jumped up and down and climbed into the stands. And she doesn’t expect to miss the next game, either.
”I think it will be fine,” Bias said, lying on the floor with the ice-covered ankle raised on her locker bench. ”Our trainer is great and we’ll do a whole bunch of rehab between now and then. But we’ve got great players, too.”
For Purdue (22-9), it was another tough finish.
The Boilermakers shot just 37.9 percent from the field and finished with 18 turnovers. They have now four straight in the second round, three of those against No. 5 seeds with two of those coming at Mackey Arena.
Whitney Bays finished with 21 points and 13 rebounds. Moses had 11 points and broke the school’s record for 3-pointers. She ends her career with 240, two more than Katie Gearlds.
But that was little consolation for a team that hasn’t reached the regional round since 2009.
”Martin had the game of her life,” coach Sharon Versyp said. ”They controlled the tempo. We couldn’t get where we needed to be. We needed to rebound better and box out better.”
By the time Purdue figured all that out, it was too late.
Martin finished three rebounds short of matching the first and second-round record in a single tourney game, a mark that has stood since 1985.
Oklahoma State took control quickly with an early 17-10 lead before giving it right back. The Cowgirls answered with a 9-2 spurt to rebuild a 28-22 lead and never trailed again.
They led 38-31 at the half, opened the second half on a 9-1 spurt and then allowed Purdue to get as close as 52-46 when Bias left.
But the Cowgirls came right back with a 15-6 run that made it 61-47 and Purdue never got closer than nine until the final basket.
”Our unity and chemistry was unbelievable. We couldn’t have won had we had just one or two play well,” Littell said. ”(Roshunda) Johnson hit big shots, she shouldered the load when Bias went down. Martin had a career night with huge numbers. A rebounding machine, she put us on her back.”