Oklahoma State is the biggest surprise in women’s college basketball


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Starting over with a new head coach and less than a handful of returning players, the Oklahoma State Cowgirls were predicted to finish 9th in the Big 12 when the season started in November. Surprisingly, however, the team is currently sitting firmly on top of the conference after having secured the third seed with a win over the Iowa State Cyclones earlier this week.

Jacie Hoyt and the squad she assembled have greatly outperformed expectations. Not only do they play with a lot of defensive intensity, but they also play smart and fast on the offensive end. As a result, they are among the top three-point shooting teams and best scoring offenses in the Big 12. While the Cowgirls have several good three-point shooters – Anna Gret Asi and Lior Garzon both shoot over 40 percent from behind the arc – their overall offensive success is a team effort. None of the Oklahoma State players are in the top 10 of individual scoring in the conference, but with Naomie Alnatas, Lior Garzon, Claire Chastain, and Terryn Milton they have four players averaging double digits. Adding greatly to that top offense is their athletic forward Taylen Collins, who is one of the few remainders of last season’s team and one of the best rebounders in the conference. She almost averages a double-double with 9.8 points on 63.5 percent shooting from the field and 9 rebounds. Assists are similarly even distributed between the Cowgirls’ two highest-usage guards, Terryn Milton and Naomie Alnatas. They average 4 and 3.9 assists respectively. This even distribution of production makes it tricky to guard the Cowgirls. Opposing teams can not just shut down one player and call it a day. They have to respect every single one of them and cannot have any weak links in their defense.

Adding to that is the fact that there is no noticeable drop off between the starters and bench players. Coach Hoyt does not usually go deep into her bench and often only plays the three reserves who she feels could be starters on any other team, and they show every night why their coach trusts them so much. In their last match against Baylor, Hoyt’s bench outscored the opposing bench 33-9. Being able to rely that heavily on the bench, takes a great load off the starters to constantly have to produce at a high level and gives them an edge over certain opponents. Besides that, the different scoring threats on this team also provide for a very versatile offense which can produce both inside the paint and from the perimeter. This further gives the Cowgirls the opportunity to mask momentary struggles. They struggled with three-point shooting in February, for example, but their offensive production did not suffer because the team made up for it by upping their mid-range game and frontcourt scoring.

In the beginning of the season, almost no one saw this coming, though. After winning only nine games last season, Oklahoma State made big changes, hiring Hoyt to establish a new identity for the program and build a foundation for the future. Expectations were that this process would take a while; maybe a few seasons even, before they would be a serious contender in the Big 12. Hoyt, however, recruited a veteran team through the transfer portal that surprised the entire conference. They have plenty of talent and experience on the roster. Terry Milton and Claire Chastain have both already competed in the NCAA tournament and both already scored over 1,000 career points. Naomie Alnatas followed Hoyt from her former program, with which they won a conference championship. Lior Garzon made the second team All-Big East last season. Nevertheless, the team was unfamiliar with each other, and that is not always an easy thing to overcome. They are a group of talented veterans, but still had to get used to a new coach and learn how to function with new teammates quickly.

They managed to do that much faster than anyone expected and are now already on track to get back to the NCAA tournament after the previous season’s team missed it. Hoyt and her squad seem to have turned the program around in just a season and while Hoyt did not make it onto the list of finalists for the Naismith Women’s College Coach of the Year Award, she is in strong consideration for winning Big 12 Coach of the Year. She is also building a solid foundation to make Oklahoma State an attractive destination for young freshman talent in the future to keep the program going at a high level once her trusted veterans graduate. Now, they just need to build on their recent 73-68 win over Iowa State, finish the season strong and keep their momentum going for what is to come next.