NCAA women hoops: Oklahoma St PG Riley suspended for NCAA opener
By JEFF LATZKE
AP Sports Writer
STILLWATER, Okla. — No. 20 Oklahoma State is bracing for life without Riley.
Andrea Riley, the nation’s third-leading scorer, will serve a one-game suspension during the Cowgirls’ first-round game against Chattanooga (24-8) on Saturday night in the NCAA tournament.
Riley averages 26.6 points and she’s also seventh in the nation with 6.5 assists. The school calculated that she had a hand in 57 percent of the Cowgirls’ scoring during the regular season.
The NCAA issued the suspension after Riley took a swipe at LSU’s Erica White during a regional semifinal game two years ago to be served during her next NCAA tournament game. The team missed the tournament last year, so she will watch from the stands as Oklahoma State plays its tournament opener in Tempe, Ariz.
“It’ll be different, definitely,” center Megan Byford said. “But it’s a true test to us that we’re a good group of basketball players. We all do little things that help make Andrea better, and she makes us better. I think we’ve done a lot of work outside of this week, because we knew it was coming, to get prepared.”
Many times, Riley is where the Cowgirls (23-10) begin and end. The ball starts out in the speedy point guard’s hands almost every possession and winds up there, too. She attempts 24 shots per game, 38 percent of her team’s total.
“We’ve got to find a way to win one game,” coach Kurt Budke said. “Obviously, you’re talking about someone that is in control of 80 percent of our offense most of the time. But the girls have known this was coming for a long time.”
That’s the silver lining, if there is one, for Oklahoma State.
As Oklahoma State returned to prominence this season with a new supporting cast around Riley, a key task for the team became earning a high enough seed that it could win a first-round game without her.
Budke was pleased that the selection committee didn’t penalize the Cowgirls in anticipation of Riley’s absence, and gave them a No. 4 seed.
Riley is just eager to get all this over with after two long years. For one game, she’ll become a cheerleader.
“I’m not going to mope in my sorrow. I’m just going to say, `Yeah, I wish I was out there’ but I already know that I’m not going to be able to, so we already accepted the facts,” Riley said. “Now, we just have to move on and they’re just going to play their butts off.”
Budke said he’s holding an open competition to replace Riley. He’s been working backups Ally Clardy, Desiree Jeffries and Carolyn Blair-Mobley into the rotation more in recent weeks in anticipation of the postseason. Lakyn Garrison, Riley’s usual backcourt mate, may run the point at times.
“As coaches, we’ve been kind of preparing behind the scenes,” Budke said. “We’ve thrown some things out in practice that we haven’t used in the Big 12, not even telling the girls why we were doing it. Just kind of seeing if we like it, as we were resting Andrea.”
Budke didn’t use the homestretch of the season to test how his team would do without Riley. She played every minute of the Cowgirls’ three games at the Big 12 tournament last week, and she’s been on the court for 91 percent of OSU’s minutes played this season.
“The one thing you can’t do is scout us right now. That’s the one advantage we have,” Budke said. “You’ve just got to find a way.”
While others will fill Riley’s playing time, among the top prospects to replace her production are forwards Tegan Cunningham and Toni Young. Cunningham averages 16.2 points while Budke has touted Young as the Cowgirls’ star of the future after she cemented a spot in the starting lineup midway through conference play.
“Well, they have a lot of great players at that level, so I am sure that they will have someone that is adequate to step in,” Chattanooga coach Wes Moore said.
Riley’s importance to the program cannot be overstated. When she arrived at Oklahoma State, the Cowgirls were coming off a winless season in Big 12 play. She has become the school’s career scoring leader and ranks second all-time in both assists and steals while leading OSU to its highest rankings ever and three NCAA tournament berths.
To continue her career, she’ll need her teammates to win once without her. She’d be eligible to return if the Cowgirls advance to face either fifth-seeded Georgia or No. 12 seed Tulane on Monday.
“We feel like Andrea deserves another game. There’s no question,” Cunningham said. “For what she’s done for this program, there’s no question in our mind that we think we want to get this win for her. She’s our motivation. She’s got us this far.”