March 16, 2018 1:41:45 PM
STARKVILLE -- Every team goes through some kind of lull, especially in the marathon that is the college basketball season.
When you're in a conference like the Big 12, those lulls can become extended doldrums pretty quickly.
But Kaylee Jensen feels the Oklahoma State women's basketball team has learned from a three-game losing streak at the tail end of the regular season and ready to apply those lessons.
No. 9 seed Oklahoma State (20-10) will try to show it has grown from losses to Baylor, Texas, and Kansas in February at 2:30 p.m. Saturday (ESPN2) when it takes on No. 8 seed Syracuse (22-8) in the first round of the NCAA tournament at Humphrey Coliseum.
"It was kind of get back to how we need to play and how we had been playing at the beginning of the season," Jensen said. "I think we kind of got away from that in that three-game stretch."
Oklahoma State lost to Baylor 87-45 on Feb. 13, Texas 77-62 on Feb. 17, and Kansas 66-59 on Feb. 21. The Cowgirls shot 35 percent or lower from the field in each loss. Oklahoma State also had two of its lowest shooting percentages from 3-point range -- 11.8 percent (2-for-17 against Baylor) and 21.4 percent (6-for-28 against Kansas) -- in the stretch. For the season, Oklahoma State shoots 42.6 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from 3-point range.
Jensen said the Cowgirls got back to pushing tempo and to working an inside-outside attack following the losses. She feels that style of play helps the Cowgirls play their best basketball.
"We can shoot the three, obviously, but we needed that balance back, and I think we figured out how to get that back," Jensen said.
Oklahoma State rebounded by beating West Virginia 79-69 on Feb. 24 in Morgantown, West Virginia. It also beat TCU 85-72 on Feb. 26 in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
Despite the losses, Oklahoma State still finished third in the Big 12 at 11-7. It was the Cowgirls' highest finish in the league since 2014-15. The finish matched the program's previous single-season high and included sweeps of Oklahoma, Texas Tech, TCU, and West Virginia.
Unfortunately, Oklahoma lost to West Virginia 69-60 in its first game at the Big 12 Conference tournament. Still, coach Jim Littell's team reached the 20-win mark for the sixth time in seven seasons.
Littell said resiliency is a key when you play in a Power 5 league like the Big 12 or the Atlantic Coast Conference. He feels it is critical at this time of the season for teams to realize their identities. For the Cowgirls, Littell said that means using their post player (Jensen) and letting their point guard (Loryn Goodwin) play and playing off her.
"Our identity is playing the game inside-out," Littell said. "Kaylee has been highly successful for the last three years."
Goodwin led the Big 12 in scoring (20.9 points per game), while Jensen was second on the team in scoring (19.8 ppg.). Both players were unanimous first-team All-Big 12 selections. Goodwin also was named the league's newcomer of the year and to its five-player all-defensive team.
This is Oklahoma State's second trip to Starkville this season. Goodwin had a season-high 35 points in a 79-76 loss to MSU on Dec. 3. Oklahoma State rebounded from that loss to beat UCLA 87-72 on Dec. 8. Littell feels his team's schedule and its march through the Big 12 will help prepare his team for the second season that begins Saturday.
Goodwin said the team "jelled" together at the end of the season and is ready to put losses late in the year behind it.
"I think in the past we have sometimes focused on the future or the past and what we used to do or what we did do," Goodwin said. "I think right now we are just trying to focus on the moment."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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