TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) -- A relieved Andrea Riley is back for Oklahoma State, just in time for a pint-sized point guard showdown with Georgia's Ashley Houts tonight in the second round of the NCAA women's tournament.
Riley, the nation's No. 3 scorer at 26.6 points per game, was suspended by the NCAA for the Cowgirls' tournament opener against Chattanooga. She watched anxiously as her team fell behind by 18 at the half, then turned to a ferocious full-court press to rally for a 70-63 victory.
"It was hard because you never want to sit out and watch your team," Riley said Oklahoma State's news conference on Sunday, "but at the same time, it's a relief because it's finally over."
The 5-foot-5 Riley and 5-6 Houts are the senior catalysts for teams that mixed extreme success with disappointing letdowns this season.
"They both control their teams," Oklahoma State coach Kurt Budke said. "They both are very tough young ladies who aren't going to be denied as seniors in their last go-around."
The two never have played against each other and were watching video to get familiar with what they are up against in a game that will send the winner to the semifinals of the Sacramento Region.
"Their whole team is really athletic and they go as she (Houts) goes," Riley said.
Oklahoma State (24-10), seeded fifth in the Sacramento region, had an 11-game winning streak and was 17-3 before losing five in a row. The Cowgirls finally regrouped with an overtime home win over Texas, and has won seven of its last nine.
No. 6 seed Georgia (24-8) started the season 16-0 and was 18-2 after handing Tennessee its lone SEC loss. But the Lady Bulldogs lost five of their next six, then were beaten soundly 67-52 by Mississippi State in the second round of the SEC tournament.
Riley was forced to sit out Saturday's game for slapping an opponent in the back of the head in the NCAA tournament two years ago.
"It made me feel like an outcast," she said. "I go everywhere with my girls. Just being away from them for a little amount of time, I was like, 'Man, I can't believe this is happening."'
Riley shoots only 37 percent from the field, but she averages 25 shots a game and put up a whopping 44, making 16, in her 43-point performance against Iowa State in the Big 12 tournament.
"It's unusual not just from the point position, you've got to be a really good player to put up 20 shots a game," Georgia coach Andy Landers said. "...You can live with that as long as your taking care of the other four players. That's one of the things we talked about today. We can live with 27 points a game, we can't live with someone else walking out of here or two or three of their other players walking out with their averages and she walks out with hers."
Houts is no big-time scorer, averaging 12.4 points per game, but they seem to come at crucial moments. She scored nine of her 22 in the decisive 18-2 late run that secured the Lady Bulldogs' first-round victory over Tulane. Her contributions also come with her scrappy defense and distribution to her teammates.
"She's a great kid, fierce competitor, great competitor, totally unselfish," Landers said. "Last night she got 22, tomorrow night she could get two, if we win she's happy."
Houts has been the driving force for Georgia virtually from the day she's arrived on the Athens campus. She's been in all 100 games Georgia has played since she's been there, starting all but three, and those were in her freshman year.
"The way I've looked at it throughout the years that I've played is you have to have the most fun out there when you're playing hardest," she said.
The stout playmaker, who joked that "junk food" was the secret to her durability, routinely plays all 40 minutes of a game.
"She's the star of the weight room, she's the star of conditioning, she's the star of practice," Landers said. "She's the star of doing all things that prepare her to prepare her the way that she plays. I see it every single day. Maybe three, four players that I've coached through the years that I literally in their career never said anything to them, never really coached effort. She's one of those players. "
Budke said Georgia reminds his team of Texas.
"They are long and they get out in the passing lanes and create offense with their defense," he said. "You know, I think at the end of the night, as long as the fouls are about the same, the rebounding stat will decide this game."
Georgia committed 23 turnovers on Saturday, and Budke might be tempted to use the full-court press that was so effective against Chattanooga. Landers would welcome that.
"I hope they press, I do," he said. "I've been very, very good against the press. If they want to press, bring it. Last night was not the norm."