From the beginning of the season coach Misti Cussen knew that McNeese State would be their biggest test. After two regular season losses, Cussen said, “We knew it would be a real battle when we had a chance to meet them again.”
The first few minutes saw these two teams go back and forth as they tried to find what worked and fix what didn’t. At the second media timeout ORU trailed 17-13. Turnovers and easy baskets put ORU back on top where they would stay for the remainder of the half. All seven Golden Eagles put points on the board before the half, led by senior Kevi Luper who had nine. Jaci Bigham had her hands in every area of the game posting five points, five rebounds and six assists.
McNeese State was led by their pair of senior sisters Ashlyn and Caitlyn Baggett. Ashlyn connected on four 3-point shots that kept the game close in the first 20 minutes. Despite her hot shooting the Cowgirls as a team shot only 30 percent from the field and were down 35-32 at halftime.
The second half began on a high note for ORU as freshman Taylor Cooper started to find her game. She opened the half scoring a lay up on the first possession, and later hit a 3-pointer to extend the lead to 57-45.
The 9:53 mark brought the biggest moment of the tournament up to that point. Senior All-American guard Kevi Luper received her fifth personal foul and was disqualified from the contest. This proved to be the break the Cowgirls needed to get back in the game as they cut the lead to four, 57-53, capping an 8-0 run in less than a minute of play.
“As I sat on the bench, Jaci (Bigham) looked at me and said, `We’ve got your back,’” said Luper, who had to watch as her team fought to stay alive. Jaci then gathered her teammates and reassured them that they were in control of the game, “To see her go out, I didn’t want our team to get rattled”, Bigham said.
Her messaged was clearly received as the Golden Eagles extended the lead back to 16 with key shots by Tulsa’s own Christian Key and Senior Forward Savannah Buck.
“Savannah is a rock,” Cussen said. Her veteran leader ended with 11 points and 9 rebounds that helped lift ORU past a very tough McNeese State team with a final tally of 79-66. Five Golden Eagles scored in double figures with Jaci Bigham leading the way with 17 points, 7 rebounds, and 8 assists in the victory.
This loss marked the end of the careers of Ashlyn and Caitlyn Baggett who had led the Cowgirls to the last two Southland Conference Championships.
It was a game that the ORU faithful can look at with great pride. To see this team take a punch like losing its best player with ten minutes left and come back with the knockout blow was something to see. A win like this shows the depth of talent, leadership and heart needed to be called a champion. Tomorrow holds one more test, as they will take on Sam Houston State University in the Southland Conference Championship Game.