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McNeese State women's basketball coach Brooks Donald Williams. (American Press Archives)

McNeese State women's basketball coach Brooks Donald Williams. (American Press Archives)

Baylor last hurdle for McNeese before conference play

Last Modified: Thursday, January 09, 2014 1:34 PM

By Troy LaFleur / American Press

If the McNeese State Cowgirls were looking for a measuring stick to assess themselves before opening Southland Conference play on Jan. 2, they will be getting the biggest one they can imagine this season when they go on the road to face No. 9 Baylor at 7 p.m. Saturday.

The Cowgirls (7-3) will line up across from the Bears (9-1) in their final nonconference game of the season.

Winners of three in a row, and five of their last six, the Cowgirls have built a heavy dose of momentum leading up to Southland play.

“We’ve got a lot of confidence and we feel like our team is really coming together nicely right now,” McNeese head coach Brooks Donald Williams said. “It’s been really nice to play different styles of teams with different types of offenses and defenses. We are really proud of our growth so far.”

The most recent of those three wins came in the form of a 77-67 home victory over Southern-New Orleans behind post play from senior forwards Cecilia Okoye and NeTanya Jones.

Okoye, who has proven to be the backbone of the McNeese team this season, finished that night with game highs of 25 points and 15 rebounds.

“(Cecilia) has played really well, and she has really played at a different level,” said Donald Williams. “I think each day we have watched her grow. We are just so happy for her, and you can tell she gets more comfortable every minute she is out there, and once she gets comfortable she is able to produce.

“I think if she had played at this level last season we would have seen different results. She is comfortable in our system now and that’s all she needed to be able to play at that next level.”

Okoye is averaging 12.8 points per game to go with 9.0 rebounds per game. The only other Cowgirl averaging double-digits is sophomore guard Allison Baggett (18.4 ppg).

The Bears have won two of the last nine national championships, with the most recent coming in 2012.

“Statistically Baylor is a tough matchup for anyone in the country,” Donald Williams said. “They are as good as anyone out there right now, and I can’t say enough about their whole team. It’s going to be a really tough environment, but we are excited about it. Our kids look at each opponent as a chance to make themselves better, and having a chance to compete against Baylor is only going to help us get better for conference.”

Leading the way for the Bears is senior point guard Odyssey Sims, who leads the nation in scoring (30.4 ppg) and averages 5.3 assists per game. A two-time All-American, Sims is recognized as not only one of the nation’s best guards, but one of the best overall players in general.

“(Sims) does everything well, and that’s why no one in the country has been able to limit her production,” Donald Williams said. “She can go either way, she can score in all different fashions, she can shoot the three, she can penetrate to the rim, she can create for others, she is great off of the pick-and-roll and is just as good defensively. She is easily one of the best players in the country, but we certainly have a game plan for her and we are going to see what we can do to limit her as best we can.”

The Bears average more than 100 points per game, a far cry from the Cowgirls’ 67.5, and scored 130 in their lone loss, which came in quadruple overtime to then-No. 9 Kentucky earlier this month.

For the Cowgirls, a win would be monumental, but a strong showing against such a high-profile opponent could give them the extra confidence they need for another successful run in the Southland.

“Our goal from the day we started was to get better every single day,” Donald Williams said. “That’s what we want to do today, tomorrow and Saturday when we go out there and lace up against Baylor. I think it is very important that we go out and play as a unit to compete against one of the best teams in the country. It is important for us to go into next week with the momentum we have right now, and I think we will be able to do that.”

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