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Purdue University

vs. Oklahoma State
What: Second round NCAA women’s tournament
Where: West Lafayette
When: 9 p.m. today

Cowgirls eye next step at Purdue

– Two and a half years after Oklahoma State’s head coach and an assistant were killed in a plane crash, the emotions still run deep.

Coach Jim Littell dips his head and speaks stoically about how he’s kept the surging Cowgirls on track since his predecessor and an assistant were killed in a plane crash. Point guard Tiffany Bias says the players who were in Stillwater, Okla., that awful November day remain motivated by the memories of Kurt Budke and Miranda Serna, too.

Now that they are here, one win away from their first Sweet 16 ticket in six years, Bias and the upperclassmen are eager to take that next big step in honor of what Budke and Serna started.

“We always think about them, they’re always in the back of our minds,” Bias said Sunday. “We play for them, we play for the university and they will always be part of us.”

The 58-year-old Littell and his players haven’t just attempted to survive and advance. They’re thrived in the wake of tragedy.

Five months after the fatal plane crash in Arkansas, Oklahoma State won its first postseason tournament championship – the 2012 WNIT title.

If fifth-seeded Oklahoma State (24-8) beats fourth-seeded Purdue (22-8) on its home court tonight, the Cowgirls will make their first regional appearance since 2008. The winner advances to the Notre Dame Regional with a likely date against the unbeaten Irish.

Despite blowing a 15-point second-half lead at second-seeded Duke in the second round, the Cowgirls made it back to the second round thanks to a gritty season and a 61-60 overtime win over Atlantic Sun champ Florida Gulf Coast on Saturday.

Guard Brittney Martin believes it’s a different team than the one that she said played scared in Durham, N.C. These Cowgirls, Martin believes, will be more comfortable and less anxious.

“It’s a Big Ten-Big 12 matchup and it’s similar to playing a Big Ten team,” Purdue guard Courtney Moses said.

Except the Cowgirls are on a mission to finish the job their fallen coaches started all those years ago.