SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Oklahoma State coach Jim Littell doesn’t want to hear the Cowgirls have nothing to lose against unbeaten Notre Dame.
“I’ve heard 50 times and had probably 200 texts in the last three or four days, ‘You have nothing to lose.‘ Well, absolutely we have things to lose. We have a chance to move on to the Elite Eight or Final Four. I guess I’m not big on that statement.”
A win Saturday would give the Cowgirls a spot in the regional final, the furthest they’ve ever advanced.
The Irish (34-0) head into their game against the Cowgirls (25-8) not only undefeated, but have only been seriously challenged in a few games. The only games they failed to win by double digits were a seven-point victory at Virginia and a four-point win at Maryland.
Coach Muffet McGraw said the key to the Irish success is they haven’t focused on the big picture.
“We’ve just really embraced where we are in the journey and enjoyed each step of it. I think the most pressure was getting back home” for the regional semifinals, McGraw said.
The Cowgirls opened the season 12-0, the best start in school history, and got to a 17-1, but then didn’t win consecutive games until beating Florida Gulf Coast and Purdue in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament. But Littell said the Cowgirls are where they want to be.
“Right now we’re playing our best basketball of the year. That’s the time of year to be doing it,” he said.
The winner of this game will face either Kentucky or Baylor on Monday night with a trip to the Final Four at stake.
Five things to know about the Oklahoma State and Notre Dame game:
UNBIASED COWGIRLS?: One of the biggest concerns for Oklahoma State is whether leading scorer Tiffany Bias will be hobbled by a left ankle injury sustained Monday against Purdue. Littell said he didn’t know whether she will be able to play. Bias, though, had no doubt.
“My ankle’s feeling a lot better,” she said. “I haven’t missed a game yet, so I plan to play tomorrow.”
Bias didn’t seem to be hampered at all during the 15 minutes of practice the media was allowed to view.
BETTER TRANSITION: McGraw wasn’t happy with Notre Dame’s offensive transition in an 84-67 victory over Arizona State in the second round of the tournament, when the Irish had only two fast-break baskets and 22 turnovers.
“The key is always rebounding. If you don’t rebound, you can’t run,” McGraw said.
Bias said the Cowgirls need to focus on getting back on defense.
“We can’t spend too much time slapping at the ball if we don’t get the rebound,” Bias said.
FEELING AT HOME: The Irish are 15-0 this season and 76-5 at Purcell Pavilion during the past five seasons. McGraw said the fans deserve some of the credit.
“They seem to know that moment in the game where it’s really important we get a stop, it’s really important we get a score here. They make us comfortable,” McGraw said.
The Irish have won 26 straight at home since losing 73-61 to then third-ranked Baylor on Dec. 5, 2012.
Littell said he isn’t thrilled to be facing an opponent on their home floor for a second straight game.
“We don’t talk to our team about it. The only thing we say is, ‘They’re playing on their home court. We have to be very good. We have to be very efficient in how we play the game. We have to be very smart.”
HAPPY TIMES: Oklahoma State is in the midst of the best three-year run in school history with 69 victories, but also are known for a plane crash Nov. 17, 2011 that killed coach Kurt Budke and assistant coach Miranda Serna. Littell politely declined to talk about the crash Friday.
“This is a happy time for our program. I’m going to make it that way today,” he said.
ROOTING INTEREST?: With Baylor facing Kentucky in the early game Saturday, the Cowgirls were asked if they would be rooting for their Big 12 colleagues.
“I can’t say rooting for, but it’s cool to have another Big 12 school in,” guard Brittney Martin said. “We want to show people the Big 12 is a tough conference. I can’t say rooting for, but I can say we’re kind of leaning toward them.”