By NICK SNOW
STILLWATER — The Oklahoma State women’s basketball team hasn’t exactly had a lot of challenges through the first two months of the season, but all that’s about to change.
As the rest of Oklahoma thaws out from the recent dip in temperatures and the Christmas Day blizzard, the Cowgirls (9-0) will be feeling the heat when they tip off the Surf N’ Slam Classic against Harvard (7-3) at 9 p.m. Friday in San Diego.
“We’re going to play two good teams out there,” Oklahoma State coach Jim Littell said. “The last I looked, Harvard had an RPI ranking of about 85. If we’re fortunate enough to beat Harvard, we’ll probably get San Diego State and in the latest RPI rankings they were 14th. They’ve played a lot of good teams and they’re very talented and very athletic.”
There may be warm beaches and plenty of sunshine, but don’t expect the Cowgirls to use this trip as a vacation from the daily grind of the season. This is strictly a business trip and the goal is to come home with Oklahoma State’s first regular season tournament trophy since winning the University of New Mexico Thanksgiving Classic in 2010.
“I’ve taken some teams to San Diego and the temperature is usually 75 degrees year-round,” Littell said. “It will be nice to get some warm weather out there and allow the team to do some things. We’ll make a nice trip of it, but when it comes time to take care of business and play basketball I’m sure the kids will be ready.”
Ready or not, Littell knows just how important this tournament is to his team. With the Big 12 Conference schedule starting Wednesday against Texas Tech, Littell hopes this tournament will give the Cowgirls a boost they need going into conference play.
“We told our players that there’s not another easy game on our schedule for the next 20-plus games,” Littell said. “We have two tough opponents in San Diego and then in conference play everybody’s good. That’s why it’s the No. 1 RPI conference in the country. I think our players are really excited to start playing some quality competition.”
It isn’t just building up for the conference season that’s on Littell’s mind. Last season, the Cowgirls lost to Long Island in the championship of the Peppermill Holiday Classic in Reno, Nev. — a loss that may have kept Oklahoma State out of the NCAA Tournament.
Littell is hoping a couple of wins in San Diego not only bolster’s the strength of schedule, but also provides some experience in case the Cowgirls have to travel for the postseason.
“Any time you can go on the road, it takes a special effort to be successful on the road,” Littell said. “Whether it’s at an opposing team’s venue or a neutral site, when you go into those type of places that kind of experience isn’t going to do anything but help you. It will prepare us for conference play and going on the road in conference play.”
But perhaps the biggest factor in whether or not Oklahoma State is able to have success in San Diego relies on whether or not the Cowgirls can get healthy. Nagging injuries and the flu have ran rampant in the locker room over the last few weeks, but the team appears to be getting healthier with each passing day.
“I don’t know if we are getting healthier, but having two days off for Christmas shouldn’t hurt us at all,” Littell said. “The girls had a little free time and it allowed them to get some rest. As you know, nothing helps heal injuries like Mom’s cooking. They’ve had a few days to get healed up and recover from some illness and it should do us a lot of good.”
Nick Snow is a sports reporter for The Stillwater NewsPress.