SAN ANTONIO — Natasha Mack, who worked out at home toting logs in the offseason, carried a load for Oklahoma State in an 84-61 win over Wake Forest on Sunday.
Mack scored 27 points and grabbed 15 rebounds to lead the Cowgirls (19-8) over the Demon Deacons in an opening-round women’s NCAA Tournament game and into a second-round matchup against the winner of overall No. 1 seed Stanford and 16th-seeded Utah Valley on Tuesday.
Mack was 13-of-22 shooting, feasting on a variety of shots inside, and collected her 18th double-double of the season. She was also a force on defense with 11 defensive boards, and blocking four shots to extend her nation-leading total to 111.
ESPN aired a home video of Mack carrying logs to build up strength, with her brother keeping the lumber coming.
“You know, he didn’t let me take any days off,” Mack said. “He said `just because corona (virus) is here you don’t take any days off, great players do not’. … Oh man, that ain’t no joke. It was very heavy, so he got me ready though, because a lot of players here, they’re strong you know, they push you around so you got to be ready.”
Ja’Mee Asberry, who combined with Mack as one of the nation’s top-scoring tandems with a combined 37.2 points per game, added 18 points with four 3-pointers.
“I thought our kids were really ready to play. We finished our regular season on Feb. 24 and had a 16-day layoff before the Big 12 Tournament and then there was quite a few days off the layoff before we played this game,” Oklahoma State coach Jim Littell said, adding that they tried to simulate games and increased their practices to around an hour and 45 minutes to help conditioning during the layoff.
As tight as the first quarter was, ending tied at 15-all, the second period quickly turned in the Cowgirls’ favor and proved to be the turning point. Neferatali Notoa opened the quarter with a 3-pointer and four Wake Forest turnovers and two Cowgirls 3-pointers later Oklahoma State had a 14-point lead. Another Asberry 3-pointer at the end of the period made it 42-29. Mack had 15 points and eight rebounds by halftime, and Asberry nine points on three second-quarter 3-pointers.
“Everybody played a role, and I like to thank my team for this,” Mack said. “Everybody did what they had to do,”
The lead remained in double figures in the second half with the Cowgirls up by as many as 25 points late in the fourth.
Christina Morra led Wake Forest with 18 points on 8-of-14 shooting for the ninth-seeded Demon Deacons (12-13). Ivana Raca added 13 points and 10 rebounds for her 10th double-double this season. Jewel Spear scored 11 points and Gina Conti 10. Conti had nine assists boosting her to No. 2 on the program’s career list with 494, passing Nicole Levesque (488, 1991-94).
“I thought every time we punched them or we gave them a hit, they hit us back and, you know, just really disappointed because super proud of what this group was able to accomplish this year,” said a hoarse Wake Forest coach Jen Hoover.
Wake Forest: Though the Demon Deacons are one-and-done, it was an achievement returning to the tournament after a 33-year absence, doing so by reaching the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament quarterfinals after placing ninth with a sub-.500 record in the conference.
Oklahoma State: The Cowgirls get to celebrate after a dominant opening-game performance but they will immediately have to get ready for a probable matchup against the Cardinal.
Mack, who played two years at Angelina College, passed 1,000 career points in the first half, the 25th Cowgirl to reach the milestone. It came in just her second year at Oklahoma State.
Wake Forest’s other NCAA appearance came in 1988 when Hoover made the winning basket as a freshman in a first-round win over Villanova before a second-round loss. She is eighth person to lead their alma mater to the NCAAs as player and coach.