It was rather sobering going back and re-reading a post I made in October about Oklahoma State’s Andrea Riley.
At the time, it seemed fair to give Riley the benefit of the doubt, that she had learned from her mistakes last season and had matured in dealing with what appear to be issues with how to control expressions of anger.
After another incident – an apparent altercation with one of the Oklahoma State trainers at Thursday’s game against Texas A&M – Riley has been suspended for the Cowgirls’ final regular-season game, today against Nebraska. Oklahoma State didn’t say what the reason for the suspension is, but it appears to be a case of 1+1=2.
One of the things that stands out about my previous post was my assumption that Oklahoma State was going to make the NCAA tournament. I wrote that after Big 12 media day, when there had been so much optimism surrounding the Cowgirl contingent.
The fact that the media day was in Oklahoma City added to the media interest in OSU then, of course, but it was more than that. The Cowgirls were coming off a Sweet 16 performance last season, during which they also had ended their losing streak against rival Oklahoma (a game in which Riley scored 45 points).
I recall thinking, as OSU’s players and coach Kurt Budke were answering so many questions, that this sure was a happy time for a program that had seen so many bleak years.
But this season took a wrong turn in February for the Cowgirls, who have now figuratively driven off a cliff. They’re 4-11 in the Big 12 after going 1-7 during February. On the Big 12 teleconference Tuesday, Budke was pretty much seething. And when asked what made things go so badly in February, he listed the Cowgirls’ first five games of the month: Texas, Oklahoma, Baylor, at Kansas State and at Texas.
“I don’t think you have to look any further than that,” Budke said. “I don’t know if anybody has had a five- game stretch like that. It put us in a place where we lost confidence.”
In now 13 years of covering the Big 12, I’ve heard several renditions of “nobody has had a stretch like that.” It is most often uttered by coaches from the Big 12’s South schools because they have to play each other twice during the season and get irritated because the South has been the more dominant half of the league now for several years.
I’ve written a fair amount about this, and I understand the South coaches’ concerns. I wrote a column detailing the South’s success – especially since 2002 – last year before the Big 12 tournament and reiterated it at the beginning of this season for ESPN.com. But the Big 12 isn’t likely to change its scheduling matrix.
Plus, I must say that for all the legitimate headaches that the South has with the scheduling, it sometimes can be an overdone catch-all reason for whatever goes wrong with a team.
So while I can empathize with OSU’s frustrations, at some point, the Cowgirls have to just “Cowgirl up” about certain aspects of this season. Sure, that was a very tough slate in the first 2 1/2 weeks of February, and it is easy to get down when you’re playing hard games and not coming out on top.
But … the Cowgirls did WIN the last of that five-game stretch, at Texas. So why would their confidence have been so down for the next two games, both at home, against Texas Tech and Kansas?
And if you want to talk about a team that could have had extreme confidence issues and been in the tank even back in January, look at Kansas. The Jayhawks had not won a Big 12 road game – and had won just three league games at home _ going into their Feb. 25 contest at Oklahoma State. But Kansas then won that game by 15 points.
So that brings up the other issue with OSU this year, which is not about the schedule. It’s about how much they miss one player in particular from last season’s team.
“We lost our heart and soul with Danielle Green,” Budke said. “We just never replaced it. She would have found a way (to win) in some of those games that could have gone either way.”
Green averaged 13.4 points and 7.4 rebounds last year, and she was especially dependable in the last month of the season. She excelled at the “little things” – tipping passes away, helping on defense, scrambling for the ball _ that always are the hardest to replace when that kind of player leaves.
So it’s no doubt been part of what’s happened with Riley … despite her continued statistical success, she doesn’t have Green around to be the true leader of the team. But that’s just explaining what’s gone on with Oklahoma State’s record.
It doesn’t necessarily account for why Riley has had another anger incident, because last year she had them when the Cowgirls were successful.
Maybe today’s suspension will make an impact with Riley, and maybe it won’t. Everyone can speculate on what’s wrong, or what she needs to do, or if Oklahoma State and Budke have done all the right things to help her.
But in the end, it is up to only one person: Riley. The lesson is the same for her as it is for everybody: You have to take responsibility for your actions and how you deal with others around you. It’s an essential part of being an adult.