Cowgirls beat San Diego 73-57, reach WNIT finalsBy JEFF LATZKE, AP Sports Writer Wednesday, Mar 28, 2012
STILLWATER, Okla. (AP)—The black sleeve on her left arm is a reminder of how last season came to an abrupt and painful end for Toni Young.
Except now, she’s learning to leave the memories of her broken arm in the past.
Young scored a season-high 27 points, Liz Donohoe added 20 points and 11 rebounds for her fourth straight double-double and Oklahoma State advanced to the finals of the Women’s NIT for the first time by beating San Diego 73-57 on Wednesday night.
It was Young’s biggest game since she had a career-high 34 points and 18 rebounds in the first round of last year’s WNIT against Pepperdine. She injured her arm two days later when she came down wrong following a two-handed dunk in practice, and Oklahoma State was eliminated in its second-round game at Wyoming.
She filled a reserve role most of the year and averaged 10 points in the regular season. While starting all five WNIT games, she has averaged 19.8 points.
“I’ve just been ignoring this,” Young said, looking at her healed left arm. “This doesn’t matter anymore.”
Young made four straight shots to give Oklahoma State a 51-31 lead with 15 minutes left, and the Toreros (26-9) could never mount a comeback.
Attempting to win a championship at the end of a season marked by the death of coach Kurt Budke and assistant Miranda Serna in a November plane crash, the Cowgirls (21-12) never trailed and were up by at least 13 throughout the second half.
“This group’s playing with a purpose right now and they’re not satisfied,” coach Jim Littell said. “They want to go get one more.”
Morgan Woodrow led San Diego with 13 points and Dominique Conners scored 11 before leaving with a left knee injury with just under 4 minutes remaining. Coach Cindy Fisher said team doctors were checking her anterior cruciate ligament, which she had torn earlier in her standout career for the Toreros.
In San Diego’s previous game—a win at Washington—Conners became the school’s career scoring leader. She also owns the Toreros’ career steals record.
Just as importantly, she was a leader for the first San Diego team ever to record wins in either the NCAA tournament or the WNIT.
“It’s really been a storybook run for this team,” Fisher said. “This team was picked to finish seventh in the West Coast Conference, we ended up tied for second and then to have this run in the postseason is so great for our young players. … It’s been a great, just priceless time for this group.”
Tiffany Bias added 15 points and eight assists and Lindsey Keller pulled down 11 rebounds for Oklahoma State, which has outrebounded each of its postseason opponents and outscored each in the paint. They also matched their stingy defense from the previous four games, limiting San Diego to 29 percent shooting in the second half.
The Toreros made only 30 percent for the game while allowing OSU to make 52 percent.
“We just want to show that we have character and we have passion for this game,” Bias said. “We went through a struggle (following the plane crash) but we defeated it and we are still going and we’re going strong.”
Young opened the game with a jumper and added a three-point play during a big opening spurt for Oklahoma State, finishing it off with a layup along the right side of the lane to make it 17-6 with just under 8 minutes elapsed.
San Diego quickly pulled within two following an 11-2 rally, only to have Oklahoma State turn it right back around.
Bias and Donohoe hit back-to-back 3-pointers to start a string of 10 straight Oklahoma State points, in the middle of a stretch when the Cowgirls hit six shots in a row. Young scored OSU’s final three buckets of the first half on jumpers, extending the lead to 38-22.
Fisher said she didn’t hold a grudge against Oklahoma State for getting to host all of its WNIT games but suggested “travel’s going to catch up with you at some point” when asked about the Cowgirls’ ability to pull away in the first half.
San Diego played its last three games on the road, posting wins at Texas Tech and Washington.
“We just didn’t have an answer for Toni today,” Fisher said. “I watched a lot of film coming into this game and had a lot of things prepared for her, and I thought she just completely took it to a different level tonight and that’s obviously where we lost the ballgame right there.”
Young joked that the WNIT is “just where I get hurt.” She got a black eye in an earlier round and then had to come out twice in the second half against San Diego, after getting hit in the face and twisting her left ankle.
Nothing nearly as bad as what happened a year earlier.
“It was a serious injury and it was hard for her not only physically but mentally as well,” Littell said. “She’s over it now and playing just at a high level and taking our team to a different level right now.”