By DAVE SKRETTA
AP Basketball Writer
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Baylor’s NaLyssa Smith deftly stepped into Oklahoma State’s passing lane, secured the steal and then headed the other direction, the Big 12 player of the year all by herself in the open court and with her eyes only on the rim.
Up she went for the emphatic dunk.
The ball ricocheted away instead, earning Smith a rueful grin from Bears coach Nicki Collen and some good-natured ribbing from her teammates. Because the truth was that Smith’s missed dunk was just about the only thing that went awry for the nation’s No. 4 team in a 76-36 victory over the Cowgirls in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament on Friday.
Smith still scored 15 points, and Ja’Mee Asberry had 16, as the top-ranked Bears (26-6) cruised along with their first-year coach into another Big 12 semifinal Saturday. They’ll play No. 21 Oklahoma, which knocked off Kansas earlier in the day.
“You have to go into every game thinking like, ‘This opponent can beat us,’” said Smith, who watched Baylor’s third-ranked men lose their quarterfinal the previous night. “You can’t just come into a game knowing that you beat them two times and slack off that one night and they’re going to get you, so it was more of keeping our focus.”
The only lapse? Probably on that dunk.
“I dunked in warm-ups so I was feeling it,” Smith said. “I was like, ‘All right, if I can do it in warm-ups, I can do it in a game,’ but usually I take off from the left-hand side. I’m going to try again. Why not?”
The Cowgirls (9-20), playing their final game under longtime coach Jim Littell, missed their first 13 field-goal attempts, fell behind 41-14 by halftime and never made a run. They wound up shooting 22.8% for the game.
Oklahoma State’s leading scorer, Lauren Fields, went 0-for-11 from the field and finished without a point, while Kassidy De Lapp finished with a team-best nine points.
“We got punched pretty good early and didn’t respond. Feel bad for our kids that we ended this way,” Littell said. “We spent a lot of energy and emotion last night and we would have hoped — I know all of them wanted to respond more, but proud of our group and we played a lot of young kids this year.”
If the outcome wasn’t preordained, it certainly was decided within the first 10 minutes.
The Cowgirls missed all their first-quarter shots, turned the ball over seven times and even missed both of their free throws in going scoreless for the first 10-plus minutes. And to make matters worse, Baylor was cruising along with big contributions from just about everyone. The defending champs built a 23-0 lead.
The start was surprising but not entirely unexpected: The Cowgirls came in averaging 58.4 points, ranking 290th out of 348 teams in Division I women’s basketball, and had been held to fewer than 50 points five times this season.
That included a 67-49 loss to the Bears in mid-January.
It was a tough end to Littell’s tenure in Stillwater, where he began as an assistant and took over the head job when Kurt Budke and another assistant, Miranda Serna, were killed in a plane crash during a recruiting trip in November 2011.
Littell led the Cowgirls to a 22-12 record and won the WNIT that difficult season, then took them to six NCAA Tournaments over the next 10 years. Just last year, Littell was voted Big 12 coach of the year after the Cowgirls went 19-9 and advanced to the second of the NCAA tourney, losing to eventual national champion Stanford.
Littell was informed earlier this week that he would not return next season.
“A little foggy right now,” he said. “I’ve told some friends and all that, you know, tomorrow is the first time in 45 years that I don’t know what was going to happen tomorrow. I feel like, very proud of my family. My wife has been a coach’s wife for 30 years, and that’s hard. Our kids grew up in Stillwater, so there are a lot of emotions running on that.
“Trying to look at the big picture right now and be thankful for the things that we have had.”
Oklahoma State finished with its fewest wins since going 6-22 in 2005-06, which was the first season Budke was in charge. The Cowgirls improved to 20-11 and reached the NCAA Tournament the following year.
Baylor wasn’t just good on defense. The Bears also piled up 17 assists against eight turnovers, shot 46% from the field and got easy baskets just about whenever they wanted. They even went 13 of 15 from the foul line.
The Bears play the No. 4 seed Sooners in Saturday’s semifinals.
More AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25