STILLWATER, Okla. — As Tiffany Bias climbed a ladder to cut down the net after Oklahoma State's WNIT championship, coach Jim Littell instructed her to take it all down except one last string.
At the end of a season marked by the deaths of head coach Kurt Budke and three others in a November plane crash, he wanted someone special to share in the triumph.
Budke's widow, Shelley, climbed up to do the last snip.
"I have never been more proud of a group of young ladies than I have this group," said Littell, Budke's former top assistant who took over after the crash.
"They set the goal in November to pay honor, and I promise you they paid honor today and in this tournament."
Toni Young scored 25 points, Bias had 17 points and 11 assists and Oklahoma State beat James Madison 75-68 on Saturday to win the program's first WNIT championship.
Liz Donohoe had her fifth straight double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds, and the Cowgirls (22-12) made it through the tournament without trailing in the second half despite a late charge by the Dukes.
Oklahoma State lost Budke and assistant Miranda Serna in a Nov. 17 plane crash that also killed pilot Olin Branstetter and his wife, Paula.
"I think they're always on our mind, always in the back of our head, just always being there," Bias said. "I think they were really watching us today. It showed out there on the floor. I think they were both on our minds the whole time."
Shelley Budke attended the game, along with her children and Budke's parents, and got hugs from the players and Littell afterward.
"We wouldn't have had it any other way," said Littell, who also endured the death of his father during the season. "She's been a rock for us, the way she's come to the games and supported the Cowgirls and been there for these kids and been there for the coaches. I commend her for that.
"I don't know how she does it sometimes the way she's done it."
Tarik Hislop scored all 16 of her points in the second half to lead James Madison (29-8), but it wasn't enough to overcome a 17-point deficit — and all the emotions in Gallagher-Iba Arena.