BOWLING GREEN - As the Bowling Green State University women's basketball team tore through the Mid-American Conference last season for a dream undefeated run, Oklahoma State was experiencing a nightmare.
The Cowgirls, BGSU's first-round opponent in the NCAA tournament, went 0-16 in the Big 12 conference last year under first-year coach Kurt Budke.
This year, OSU has won 20 games for the first time in nine years and finished sixth in the Big 12. The Cowgirls are making their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1996.
"The turnaround he orchestrated in the time that he did at Oklahoma State has got to be one of the stories in the country," BGSU coach Curt Miller said.
The No. 7-seeded Falcons play 10th-seed OSU at approximately 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the Breslin Center in East Lansing, Mich.
"To go from 0-16 to the NCAA tournament says a lot about my coaching staff and the fact that these players believed in the message we're trying to deliver," Budke said the night of the NCAA selection show.
OSU accomplished one of the best improvements in the country, from 6-22 in 2005-06 to 20-10 this year, with defense and rebounding. The Cowgirls are the 15th-best rebounding team in the country, and allowed just 57.1 points per game.
"They just don't give up a lot of points," Miller said. "If you're one of those rare teams that can get to 70 points against them, you have a shot of winning."
Teams turned the ball over an average of 19.6 times per game against OSU and the Cowgirls averaged nearly 11 steals a game.
"They like to get out in the passing lanes," sophomore Lindsey Goldsberry said. "We're going to have to be ready for their defensive pressure because that's what they're known for, that and offensive rebounding."
Six-foot-2 senior Rashidat Sadiq leads OSU with 12.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. She is one of four players averaging double figures in scoring.
"Their athleticism is very apparent when you watch them," Miller said. "We can't turn the ball over against their pressure - that leads to easy points."
After the lack of success last year, Budke brought in four junior-college players to give the Cowgirls six on their roster. But his most impressive newcomer is freshman point guard Andrea Riley. Riley won Big 12 freshman of the year by averaging 12.6 points, five assists and two steals per game.
Despite being just 5-foot-5, Riley can get inside and to the foul line, making her matchup with Kate Achter a key one for the Falcons.
"If we can keep Kate Achter out of foul trouble, then we have a chance to pull this game out," Miller said. "If she's in foul trouble we could be in trouble in a hurry."
OSU is 5-6 against tournament teams while BGSU is 4-2. Although just one of the Cowgirls has tournament experience (Connecticut transfer Sadiq), Budke went to two Sweet Sixteens as the coach at Louisiana Tech from 2002-05.
"It's a great challenge," Miller said. "Coach Budke's not a coach who gets outcoached."
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