Category archive: Oklahoma Sooners

Baylor coach Kim Mulkey talks about the differences between Thursday's runaway72-48 victory over Texas Tech and the two previous games the teams played this season that were close.

Odyssey Sims talks about how well prepared Baylor was to face Texas Tech in the Big 12 quarterfinals on Thursday.

Texas A&M senior guard Sydney Carter talks about the Aggies' Big 12 tournament-opening victory over Kansas and how she has helped tutor freshman Alexia Standish, who had 25 points versus the Jayhawks.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- There was a lot of familiarity in how Thursday's Big 12 tournament quarterfinals played out. The three teams who've all been to the Final Four in the past two seasons -- Baylor, Oklahoma and 2011 national champ Texas A&M -- advanced to Friday's semifinals, where they'll be joined by Kansas State.

Meanwhile Kansas, which hasn't been to the NCAA tournament since 2000, is left to sweat it out until Selection Monday with a glimmer of hope at 19-12.

We've been here before, right? Oh, yeah. This is my 16th Big 12 tournament, and the narrative of the past several years hasn't changed that much. What's different, though, is now there are just 10 teams, two of whom are departing after this season.

Texas A&M and Missouri will head to the SEC, and the Tigers have officially played their last game as a Big 12 team. They gave Oklahoma a scare for a little more than a half, but the Sooners rallied for a 70-59 victory. The No. 10 seed Tigers' season ends at 13-18, and so concludes an era.

Missouri was a successful team in the old Big Eight, winning the league tournament title four times. But in the Big 12 era, which began in 1996-97, the Tigers never even made it to the league tourney final. Now they will try their luck in the SEC. It's going to be quite a challenge.

No. 2 seed Oklahoma, meanwhile, bounced back from a very surprising home loss to Kansas to end the regular season. Next up for the Sooners is Texas A&M, which also lost its regular-season finale. The Aggies fell at Texas -- "It hurt my soul to lose to them twice this year," said Texas A&M senior guard Sydney Carter -- and came into this tournament looking to find their championship selves.

They encountered a Kansas team that really needed a win for its NCAA hopes, but didn't get it. The Aggies pulled away down the stretch, 78-63. Texas A&M did it without senior Tyra White, who's dealing with a foot injury. She had started all but two games in the past three seasons, and Texas A&M coach Gary Blair dreaded playing without her.

"It killed me; I was in a horrible mood," Blair said. "[But] somehow, I believed in our kids. We had great guard play today."

Indeed they did, as freshman guard Alexia Standish scored a team-high 25 points and Carter added 18 points, seven rebounds and eight assists (with no turnovers). Center Kelsey Bone had 16 points and forward Adaora Elonu 13. That's what Blair always wants to see from the Aggies: four players in double figures.

Will they be able to do that against Oklahoma, especially if White is still unable to play? The Aggies split their regular-season meetings with the Sooners, winning 75-58 at home in January, and losing 64-55 in Oklahoma in February.

Texas A&M will be trying to make its fifth consecutive Big 12 final, having won the title in 2008 and '10, and finishing runner-up in 2009 and last year. Both those championship-game losses were to Baylor, which is trying to win its fourth Big 12 tournament title.

Baylor, the undefeated No. 1 seed, pounded No. 9 seed Texas Tech 72-48 Thursday, preventing the game from being anything like the two close contests between the two teams during the regular season.

Friday, the Lady Bears face No. 5 seed Kansas State, which topped No. 4 Iowa State 67-63 in Thursday's best game at Municipal Auditorium. Jalana Childs set a K-State school record for a Big 12 tournament game with 31 points. She also had 10 rebounds. She and the Wildcats will need all that and then some against Baylor, which beat K-State 76-41 and 70-41 in their two meetings this season.

Sixteen teams are perfect in the women's NCAA tournament so far. But in the Women's Tournament Challenge, there are no perfect brackets.

Only one bracket correctly picked the Sweet 16, and that was after going 31-for-32 (the only incorrect game was Marquette over Texas) in the first round.

Two users got each first-round pick correct and then missed just one game in the second round.

The most popular result for the Sweet 16 was a bracket that had 10 of the 16 teams in the regional semifinals correct. Brackets with 26 of 32 teams correct were the most popular result after the first round.

A look at each region:

Spokane

• Just 0.65 percent of entries had Xavier to win the national championship.

• Meanwhile, 66.4 percent of brackets had Louisville meeting Xavier in the second round, but only 13 percent believed Louisville would win the matchup, while 3.3 percent of users have Louisville in the Elite Eight and 0.3 percent have it in the Final Four.

• UCLA, the No. 3 seed in the Spokane Regional, was predicted by 76 percent of brackets to make the Sweet 16, 34.5 percent to make the Elite Eight and 4.5 percent to win its region. Only 9.3 percent of users had Gonzaga making it this far, and only 1.8 percent have the team in the Final Four. While 31.3 percent overall predicted the matchup between Gonzaga and UCLA, 26.7 percent had Gonzaga winning.

• One percent of entries had Louisville and Gonzaga playing against each other in the third round, and 63.1 percent of those predictors had Louisville winning.

• Just 0.5 percent of entries predicted that Stanford, UNC, Louisville and Gonzaga would make the Sweet 16.

Potential Elite Eight matchups:
• Stanford vs. Gonzaga: 2.4 percent of entries predicted the matchup with 83.7 percent of those entries predicting Stanford wins
• Stanford vs. Louisville: 2.6 percent of entries predicted the matchup with 93.1 percent of those entries predicting Stanford wins
• UNC vs. Gonzaga: 0.2 percent of entries predicted the matchup with 66.6 percent of those entries predicting UNC wins
• UNC vs. Louisville: 0.3 percent of entries predicted the matchup with 75.5 percent of those entries predicting UNC wins

Philadelphia

• 19.1 percent of entries predicted that UConn, Georgetown, Duke and DePaul would make the Sweet 16 out of this region.

• 98.6 percent of brackets had UConn in the Sweet 16, 96.3 percent in the Elite Eight and 89.6 percent in the Final Four. 51.5 percent of brackets have UConn winning it all.

What does that mean? Not good things for Georgetown: 29 percent had Georgetown advancing to the Sweet 16, but only 0.6 percent have the Hoyas making it any further. 28.7 percent of entries predicted this matchup against UConn, but only 1.5 percent have Georgetown ousting the No. 1 seed. Only 73 brackets predicted Georgetown as national champion.

• 68.6 percent of entries predicted Duke facing off against DePaul in the Sweet 16, and fans stuck with the No. 2 seed at a clip of 76.1 percent. Only 6.5 percent have Duke making the Final Four. DePaul was predicted by 72.2 percent of brackets to make the Sweet 16, 18.6 percent to make the Elite Eight and 1.2 percent to make the Final Four. It is the lowest No. 3 seed in that regard (all the other No. 3 seeds received at least 3.3 percent). But DePaul was the only No. 3 seed to survive.

Potential Elite Eight matchups:
• UConn vs. Duke: 72.8 percent of entries predicted the matchup with 92.6 percent of those entries predicting UConn wins
• UConn vs. DePaul: 18 percent of entries predicted the matchup with 94.9 percent of those entries predicting UConn wins
• Georgetown vs. Duke: 0.3 percent of entries predicted the matchup with 73 percent of those entries predicting Duke wins
• Georgetown vs. DePaul: 0.2 percent of entries predicted the matchup with 65.2 percent of those entries predicting DePaul wins

Dayton

• 23.9 percent of entries had Tennessee, OSU, ND and OU in the Sweet 16.

Oklahoma was the biggest surprise, selected by only 35.8 percent of entries to make the Sweet 16. 87.9 percent of entries had the second-round Oklahoma versus Miami matchup, but only 39.2 percent had Oklahoma with the upset. And 3.7 percent of users predicted Miami to make the Final Four; the upset disrupted 17.5 percent of brackets who had the Hurricanes in the Elite Eight.

• Users predicted that it would be a no-brainer that Tennessee would advance to this point: 96.6 percent of users had Tennessee going at least two rounds. Now, Tennessee faces Ohio State in the Sweet 16, a common matchup selected by 72.4 percent of users. 88.1 percent have Tennessee advancing from that matchup and a total of 86.6 percent of brackets have the Lady Vols in the Elite Eight. 65.7 percent have Tennessee in the Final Four. Ohio State makes the Elite Eight in only 9.7 percent of brackets and the Final Four in 4.3 percent.

• Despite the early-round confidence in Tennessee, it is the least-selected No. 1 seed to make the Final Four (Stanford: 79.5 percent; UConn: 89.6 percent; Baylor: 78.3 percent).

• Only 33.1 percent of entries predicted a Notre Dame-Oklahoma matchup; 76.3 percent of those users have Notre Dame advancing and 70 percent out of all brackets have the Irish in the Elite Eight. 21.9 percent have Notre Dame in the Final Four, the most of any of the No. 2 seeds by a large margin. Oklahoma was predicted to make it to the Elite Eight in only 9.7 percent of brackets, while 2.1 percent believed it could make the Final Four.

Potential Elite Eight matchups:
• Tennessee vs. Notre Dame: 61.9 percent of entries predicted the matchup with 73.1 percent of those entries predicting Tennessee wins
• Tennessee vs. Oklahoma: 8.1 percent of entries predicted the matchup with 81.8 percent of those entries predicting Tennessee wins
• OSU vs. Notre Dame: 6.5 percent of entries predicted the matchup with 63.8 percent of those entries predicting Notre Dame wins
• OSU vs. Oklahoma: 1.1 percent of entries predicted the matchup with 65.3 percent of those entries predicting Ohio State wins

Dallas

• Just 6 percent of entries predicted that Baylor, Green Bay, Georgia and Texas A&M would all make the Sweet 16.

• Michigan State was heavily favored to advance over Green Bay, according to our users, who had MSU in 61.9 percent of brackets and Green Bay in only 34.3 percent of brackets. 4.3 percent of brackets had MSU making the Elite Eight and 2.1 percent had it in the Final Four.

• 33.8 percent of entries had Baylor versus Green Bay in the Sweet 16. Almost all of them, 92 percent, have Baylor advancing to the Elite Eight. Overall, 91.1 percent of the brackets have Baylor in the Elite Eight and 78.3 percent have the Lady Bears in the Final Four. Green Bay is predicted by only 1.8 percent of brackets to make the Final Four.

• 21.6 percent of brackets had No. 6 seed Georgia in the Sweet 16, and 17.3 percent of all brackets had it facing Texas A&M in the next round. 82.7 percent of those predicting the matchup have Texas A&M advancing, but that is no surprise, as 63 percent of all users have A&M in the Elite Eight and 11.6 percent have it in the Final Four. Just 0.5 percent have Georgia in the Final Four.

Potential Elite Eight matchups:
• Baylor vs. Georgia: 4.3 percent of entries predicted the matchup with 91.7 percent of those entries predicting Baylor wins
• Baylor vs. Texas A&M: 58.7 percent of entries predicted the matchup with 83.9 percent of those entries predicting Baylor wins
• Green Bay vs. Texas A&M: 1.8 percent of entries predicted the matchup, with 56.1 percent of those entries predicting Green Bay wins
• Green Bay vs. Georgia: 0.2 percent of entries predicted the matchup with 64.4 percent of those entries predicting Green Bay wins

Most popular championship game matchups

• 31.1 percent have UConn versus Stanford in the final, with 70 percent of those entries with UConn winning
• 35.3 percent have UConn versus Baylor in the finals, with 66.9 percent of those entries with UConn winning

Least popular

• Two entries had Georgetown facing off against Gonzaga in the final
• Five entries had Oklahoma facing off against Gonzaga in the final

There are many nuggets of wisdom and philosophy that come from Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale that stick with you. One of them is her theory that there are several players who can win a lot of games … but not as many who can win the most important games.

It's a valuable personality trait among athletes to have the capacity to be both in the moment and simultaneously see the big picture. And play effectively while doing both.

Coale is a deep thinker who also knows very well how to simplify. If there is a defining characteristic to her teams, it's that they understand the magnitude of moments without being overwhelmed by them.

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Whitney Hand
AP Photo/Andrew ShurtleffOklahoma's Whitney Hand matched her career high with 24 points Sunday, hitting 8 of 14 attempts.

So it's no wonder Whitney Hand, who led sixth-seeded Oklahoma to an 86-72 first-round victory over No. 11 seed James Madison on Sunday, is such a perfect fit playing for Coale. The daughter of a former major league baseball player, the 6-foot-1 redshirt sophomore Hand grew up with an understanding of the less glamorous things that go into athletic success. She knew and appreciated the daily maintenance of achievement.

As a freshman, Hand was an important contributor to Oklahoma's 2009 Final Four team. Last season, she was expected to be even more important in the Sooners' attack … but she suffered an ACL tear in the fifth game of the season on Nov. 27, 2009.

A lot of people go through serious knee injuries, especially in women's basketball. And whether they truly have the personality to learn through painful adversity when they start the rehab process, most do gain something from it.

For someone like Hand, though, it was automatically understood that she'd make the most of any bad situation. After her initial disappointment and sadness about getting hurt, there was an immediate rearrangement of goals and objectives. She couldn't help the Sooners on court last season, but she could be an aid in so many other ways.

She could offer not just encouragement, but real instruction as she served as a conduit in the relationship between the players and staff. Much was made, for good reason, of the Sooners' ability to make a second consecutive Final Four trip after losing the Paris twins to graduation and Hand to injury. But the truth is, Oklahoma didn't actually "lose" Hand last season. Every practice and game, she was still there.

Sunday, it wasn't surprising that Hand matched her career high with 24 points in a game in which the Sooners needed both an inspirational and calming presence. As JMU tried to forge a comeback to the delight of its fans who'd made the trip to Charlottesville, Va., the Sooners had to remind themselves of their own intestinal fortitude.

Hand wasn't able to come back this season until Jan. 2 at TCU, a homecoming game for the Fort Worth, Texas, native. She had 24 points that game, too, but it was a loss.

The Sooners have had their ups and downs all season, partly because of a young and inexperienced interior game that put so much pressure on the guards, led by senior Danielle Robinson.

And in this case, it has almost literally been an up-and-down season since Jan. 23. In that 16-game stretch, the Sooners have alternated wins and losses with the exception of two defeats in a row Feb. 23-27 against Colorado and Baylor.

In order to keep their season going, the Sooners will have to break that trend Tuesday and put together back-to-back wins.

They'll need to do it against a Miami squad that is also guard-oriented and very speedy on the perimeter. Hand most definitely will face some challenges on the defensive end.

But she will also present a challenge to the Hurricanes, because she has that ability to rise to the occasion.

And often with Hand, the bigger the occasion, the better she is.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Kansas State's upset victory over Texas A&M on March 2 seems like it actually did a lot of good for both teams.

For K-State, it was the signature win needed to help assure the Wildcats of an NCAA tournament berth. They followed that with a victory over Kansas that helped earn them the No. 4 seed in the Big 12 tournament, which they upheld Wednesday with a 56-53 quarterfinal victory over No. 5 Iowa State.

Meanwhile, the Aggies bounced back from that loss in Manhattan, Kan. -- the only other Big 12 team that has defeated them this season is Baylor, twice -- and have punished their two subsequent foes.

Texas A&M pounded Nebraska in the regular-season finale, then did the same to Texas in the Big 12 quarterfinals. Wednesday's 77-50 triumph over the Longhorns was the Aggies' 11th victory in a row in the series with Texas.

"Right now, we just happen to have their number," Texas A&M coach Gary Blair said. "And Baylor sort of has our number now. We need to change that."

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Danielle Adams
AP Photo/Jeff RobersonDanielle Adams had 23 points and nine rebounds for defending Big 12 tournament champion Texas A&M.

For the No. 2 seed Aggies to get a third chance at top-seeded Baylor, they'll need to get past third-seeded Oklahoma in Friday's semifinals. Of course, Baylor will also have to win its semifinal game, but that's expected. No offense to K-State, but the Wildcats fell 75-48 at Waco, Texas, on Feb. 23 and have lost their past nine in a row to Baylor.

Friday's semifinal will be on the neutral court of Municipal Auditorium, but top-seeded Baylor obviously is a huge favorite.

Meanwhile, even though Texas A&M beat Oklahoma in both their meetings during the regular season, Blair knows the Sooners are a daunting matchup. OU lost three of its last four games entering the Big 12 tournament, but the Sooners won their quarterfinal Wednesday against Texas Tech 71-69.

"You always worry about Danielle Robinson first," Blair said of the Sooners' senior point guard, who had a team-high 19 points against Tech. "And try to make sure that Whitney Hand does not go off on you.

"They live off [3-pointers] a lot of the time. Their post play -- no, it's not great offensively, but defensively, they play help defense well. We did a great job against Texas' guards to force them into a low shooting percentage, and we have to do the same thing against Oklahoma."

The Aggies beat the Sooners by just a basket, 80-78, when the met in Norman, Okla., on Jan. 26. Texas A&M was more dominant -- 92-71 -- in their win against OU in College Station, Texas, on Feb. 9.

However, the Sooners have gone to the Final Four the past two seasons, and coach Sherri Coale's program has won the Big 12 tournament four times.

"What worries you about Oklahoma is their big-game experience," Blair said. "They're not afraid to play the Connecticuts of the world, even when this might be sort of a rebuilding year. I'd love to have a rebuilding year as good as what they have had. There's always good players there, good recruits coming in, and Sherri never graduates."

Neither, though, does Blair, and he was very happy with every aspect of his team's win over Texas, which was held to 32 percent shooting and had 31 turnovers. The Longhorns (19-13) now have to wait to see if they get an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.

Blair thinks they should, and did his politicking for his fellow league school. He also praised his own squad. Danielle Adams had 23 points and nine rebounds to lead the Aggies, who are the defending Big 12 tournament champions. They also got 14 points each from Tyra White and Sydney Colson, nine from Sydney Carter and eight from Adaora Elonu.

"That was the best defensive game we've played in a long time," Blair said. "And we said we wanted to have balanced scoring. We almost had all five of them in double figures."

Stage set for Big 12 semifinals

March, 13, 2010
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Quarterfinal day at the Big 12 tournament started with the road to perfection continued, and ended with the road to redemption established. In between, Texas lost the ball a lot, and Oklahoma State's Andrea Riley shot it a lot.

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Andrea Riley
AP Photo/Denny MedleyOklahoma State's Andrea Riley set two Big 12 tournament marks Friday: a single-game record 43 points on a tourney-record 44 field goal attempts.

Now we get this: Nebraska, which improved to 30-0 after beating Kansas State 63-46, trying to move to its first Big 12 tournament final and … Bedlam No. 3, as Oklahoma and Oklahoma State face off in the other semifinal.

The Huskers will meet Texas A&M, which forced 26 Texas turnovers in beating the Longhorns 77-64. Oklahoma State then pulled the day's upset, as the No. 7 seed Cowgirls topped No. 2 Iowa State 62-59 behind Riley's 43 points, a Big 12 tournament single-game record.

Riley took a Big 12-record 44 shots from the field -- she'd had the record previously with 42 earlier this season -- and made 16 of them. With her first basket, she became the conference's all-time leading scorer, surpassing Oklahoma's Courtney Paris.

Riley now has 2,772 career points, and said coach Kurt Budke told her if she had to shoot it 50 times on Friday, he was fine with that.

"And I got close!" Riley said, laughing. (Budke confirmed he did, indeed, tell her to basically shoot until the game ended or her arm fell off, whichever came first.)

Then the highlight of Friday at Municipal Auditorium was the last game, in which Baylor freshman Brittney Griner returned after a two-game suspension and did the same thing to No. 12 Oklahoma that she had during two regular-season meetings: made it very difficult for the Sooners to get much inside.

Griner blocked 10 shots -- she had 11 blocks in both other matchups with the Sooners -- and had 13 points and six rebounds in 40 minutes. Plus, No. 18 Baylor's "glue" player, Melissa Jones, who has been battling a stress reaction in her leg and hadn't played since Jan. 31, returned for 17 minutes of action.

It wasn't enough, though, on a night when Oklahoma had just seven turnovers, none by point guard Danielle Robinson. It was the fourth meeting between Oklahoma and Baylor in Big 12 tournament history, and the Sooners have won all four.

This one went down to the wire, 59-54, and afterward OU coach Sherri Coale said Griner coming off the suspension, "Looked exactly the same to me."

Griner said she felt with her first blocked shot, "I was back in the groove. I missed being out there with my team. It felt good to be back and playing with everybody."

But Baylor coach Kim Mulkey voiced what seemed pretty obvious to most observers, "I thought she was tentative. She probably wasn't as much of a presence in the paint as she had been."

That would be understandable with Griner facing the degree of public scrutiny she has since punching a Texas Tech player March 3.

Griner said she wasn't nervous before the game and didn't really hear the smattering of boos that came from the crowd when she was announced. However, Mulkey noticed and said, "I was disappointed. It's a teenager that made a mistake. She's good for the women's game, and she's human."

Griner did look more comfortable in the second half, saying that while she didn't think she was really holding back before that, "I knew I had to step it up. I was trying to help my team out."

Mulkey gave an impassioned and heartfelt explanation of what Griner has been going through the past nine days.

"I'm a mother, and when I go into that home and recruit a kid," Mulkey said, "and I look at her parents in the eyes and they say, 'I want that kid to play for you because you run a disciplined program' -- that came out of Brittney Griner's father's mouth.

"And he expects, when she fails, for me to discipline her and not throw her on the street. I would think if I coached your daughter, you would want that, too. Brittney Griner will learn from this. And if she doesn't, Brittney will eliminate herself."

Mulkey has spoken often about Griner's gentle demeanor, and she reiterated that in regard to how one action in the heat of battle is not at all indicative of Griner's real personality.

"She is the sweetest child in a 6-8 body," Mulkey said. "All I ask is that you judge Brittney Griner before the incident and you judge her after the incident. What made [it] so bad is it was done in a public forum. There is not a coach in America that has not had to discipline a kid for taking a swing at a teammate in private that none of you ever knew about. Not on the men's side, not on the women's side. … It was, again, a horrible, horrible thing, and she hurts because of it."

But it's also over. And with Griner back in action -- still facing, however, private disciplinary measures from Mulkey to help her learn from the mistake -- there's not much else to say about it. It's time to move forward and look at Baylor's NCAA tournament chances.

Jones was not her normal self in some ways, going 1 of 7 from the field, but her mere presence made Baylor function better. Baylor also got Morghan Medlock's best game of the season; the team's lone senior had 18 points and five rebounds.

If Jones can return to full health -- or close to it -- and Griner feels comfortable asserting herself, Baylor is going to be a really tough NCAA matchup.

"I was excited to have those two back in the lineup," Medlock said, no doubt speaking for all Baylor followers, too.

But now while Baylor prepares for the NCAA tournament, Oklahoma faces its third meeting this season with in-state rival Oklahoma State. Well, actually it hasn't been that much of a rivalry: the Cowgirls have won only once in the last 22 meetings.

Oklahoma won this season's matchups 77-66 in Stillwater and 95-62 in Norman. The latter game was the regular-season finale, and the Sooners could do no wrong in that game.

The semifinal meeting will pit two of the top point guards in the women's college game, with Riley and Robinson, who had 26 points and four assists Friday.

And Nebraska -- whose only "worry" against the Wildcats was an ugly 1-for-21 struggle from behind the arc, not that it mattered -- will go against an A&M team that is looking really good in March -- much like the Aggies did two years ago when they won the Big 12 tournament here in KC.

"Well, obviously, no one would have expected us to be 30-0 -- nor did I," Nebraska coach Connie Yori said. "You've got to find different ways to win. This is a rarity. I might coach for another 30 years and not have this happen."

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Brittney Griner sat in the stands behind the Baylor bench at the Big 12 tournament and watched her teammates figure out a way to beat Colorado without her. They will not have to do the same thing Friday against Oklahoma.

Griner will be back after her two-game suspension for punching Texas Tech's Jordan Barncastle, and Baylor will be oh-so-happy to have her return to the floor.

With Griner in the lineup in February -- getting a triple-double that included 11 blocked shots -- Baylor beat Colorado by 34 points. Without Griner, No. 6 seed Baylor had to throw on a full-court press and get a very special guest-star appearance from Whitney Zachariason to beat the Buffaloes 72-65 in the first round.

Baylor trailed by eight points at halftime and was still down by that much with 13:40 left in the game. But then Baylor gained back the momentum with pressure defense, and the Buffs had no answer for Zachariason. Of course, they weren't expecting she'd be such a problem.

Zachariason's career high in points coming into Thursday's game was seven. But with the Buffs fully committed to a zone defense, Baylor coach Kim Mulkey called on the "Z" to bust it up. And she did, hitting five 3-pointers on the way to a team-high 17 points.

Asked if using Zachariason was a game-time decision, Mulkey said, "Yeah, it was sittin' on the bench and watching us miss shots from the perimeter. And I thought, 'Hell, give her a shot.'"

Baylor's comeback was the nightcap of four closely contested games in Big 12 first-round action; all were decided by single digits. The day started with a reminder of the Griner-Barncastle tussle; Barncastle was wearing a face mask to protect her broken nose. That is, until she couldn't stand it anymore.

At one point, she became so irritated with the mask that she took it off, but then later put it back on. She never seemed comfortable the whole game, and didn't score in Tech's 59-51 loss to Kansas State.

"I thought she didn't look herself today, defensively especially," Tech coach Kristy Curry said of Barncastle. "She was way too passive."

What will be interesting to see is if Griner is somewhat passive against the Sooners, or if she'll feel comfortable asserting herself. The No. 3 seed Sooners and Baylor split their meetings during the regular season, with Baylor winning 57-47 in Waco, Texas, on Jan. 13 and Oklahoma taking a 62-60 overtime win in Norman, Okla., on Feb. 10.

Griner had two of her bigger rejection games against the Sooners; in each meeting, she blocked 11 shots. She had 12 points in the victory against OU and 17 in the loss.

Friday's quarterfinal will be the fourth Big 12 tournament meeting between Oklahoma and Baylor, and the Sooners have won the previous three. Two of those were for the championship (2002, '06) and the other was in the semifinals ('07).

In those last two tourney meetings with Baylor, the Sooners were led by Courtney Paris. She remains the Big 12's leading career scorer … but only for a little while longer.

In the outstanding individual performance of Thursday, Oklahoma State guard Andrea Riley had 37 points in a 76-69 victory over Kansas. Riley's total bested Paris' single-game tournament record of 36 points set in 2006. And with that performance, Riley now has 2,729 points in her career, which ties her with Paris. Riley's first basket or free throw Friday when the Cowgirls face Iowa State will give her the record.

"To us, she is the MVP of the conference," Oklahoma State coach Kurt Budke said. "There is nobody more valuable to a team."

Well, Nebraska fans would disagree, as their star, Kelsey Griffin, is the Big 12 Player of the Year and has led the Huskers to a 29-0 record. Top-seeded Nebraska, which has never won the Big 12 tournament title and never reached the final, will start its quest in the day's first game against Kansas State.

The other matchup Friday will pit Texas -- which survived Missouri in Tigers coach Cindy Stein's last game, 64-59 -- against Texas A&M. The Aggies have vexed Texas coach Gail Goestenkors since she arrived in Austin for the 2007-08 season. She has lost all six meetings with Texas A&M. In fact, Texas has beaten A&M just once since 2005.

But the game of the day could well be the last one, with Baylor and Oklahoma both trying to boost their NCAA tournament seeding. Baylor got a lift from an unexpected source on Thursday. But Friday, Mulkey hopes to see everything back to normal, with Griner crowding the lane, not sitting in the crowd.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Were it some coach other than Nebraska's Connie Yori, you might just think it was sandbagging. But few folks in the business are as straightforward as she is … plus what she says just makes a lot of sense.

The Huskers are undefeated and the top seed in the Big 12 tournament; they'll open play in Friday's quarterfinals. Still, Yori doesn't see Nebraska as the "favorite."

"We are not built to play three games in three days," the Big 12 coach of the year said. "Because we play full-court defense. We expend a lot of energy -- that's who we are. In order to do that for three games in a row, that's hard.

"We're not a half-court execution team. So I think it will be a huge challenge for us, because of our style, to win the Big 12 tournament."

Two games in three days -- which is the NCAA tournament setup -- is a different story. Yori is not concerned about that.

But three in three just might tax her Huskers -- including Big 12 player of the year Kelsey Griffin -- too much. This is all new ground anyway for Nebraska, which has never won a league tournament title in the Big 12 or Big Eight eras.

Further, no North Division team has won the conference tournament since Iowa State did it in 2001. This year, for the first time in Big 12 history, the top two seeds -- Nebraska and Iowa State -- are from the North Division.

Although the Huskers come in feeling fully healthy, the Cyclones don't. Senior point guard Alison Lacey is not expected to play in Iowa State's quarterfinal game Friday because she's recovering from pneumonia.

Iowa State released a statement that Lacey's status beyond the quarterfinal is uncertain, although she is expected to be ready to play in the NCAA tournament if the Cyclones get a bid (which, of course, they will).

If Lacey is absent the entire Big 12 tourney, it seems unlikely the Cyclones can really make a run at winning. Thus, if neither of the top two seeds is the so-called favorite, who is?

Well, would it be crazy to say No. 3 seed Oklahoma? Nope. Despite all the graduation and injury losses, the Sooners still tied with Iowa State for second place in the league at 11-5. (The Cyclones won the head-to-head matchup as the tiebreaker.)

How about Texas A&M, which is the No. 4 seed (the same spot from which the Aggies won this title two years ago in K.C.)? All three of Texas A&M's leading scorers, by the way, are from Kansas City (Danielle Adams, Tanisha Smith and Tyra White).

Who outside the top four seeds -- they have first-round byes -- might challenge to win the title? It would be a stretch for any of them. That would mean four games in four days. Only one team outside the top four has won the title previously, and that was Oklahoma as a No. 6 seed in 2004.

However, back then the tournament still had a rest day between the semifinals and final. Now, it no longer has that.

No. 5 seed Texas has had its ups and downs, although the Longhorns did close the regular season with a victory over Baylor. However, that came with Brittney Griner suspended for a punch thrown in Baylor's game at Texas Tech on March 3.

Speaking of Baylor, the No. 6 seed, Griner is suspended for one more game -- the opener Thursday night against No. 11 Colorado. She didn't come to Baylor's open-to-the-media practice. Asked about it after the workout, Baylor coach Kim Mulkey did not explain Griner's absence but just repeated that Griner was suspended for the first game of the tournament. Mulkey didn't seem very pleased to be talking to any of us reporters, you might say.

Being the fierce competitor she is, Mulkey seems to be taking an "us against the world" attitude. And even though Melissa Jones (injury to right lower leg) apparently is out of the Big 12 tournament, Baylor shouldn't be underestimated. This is the program that won the league tournament last season -- although the personnel is quite different.

Lastly, the only other team that merits a mention as having an outside shot at the title is No. 7 Oklahoma State. Despite its season-ending 95-62 smackdown at Oklahoma in the regular-season finale, the Cowgirls and Andrea Riley do have title-game experience. They made it to the championship game in 2008.

The Big 12 is not the only big show in women's basketball still going on. The Pac-10 tourney, in which Stanford is nearly a prohibitive favorite, will be contested through the weekend, too.

But the Big 12 should provide a bit more drama because several teams are trying to improve their NCAA tournament position. Plus, despite the Huskers' 29-0 mark, as Yori said there is still a feeling that Nebraska might have its troubles here.

Then again, so might everybody else.

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