Dishin’ on the Big 12 tournament
Site: American Airlines Center, Dallas, TX
Top seeds: 1) Baylor 2) Iowa State 3) tie: Oklahoma, Texas Tech
DALLAS – Baylor the nation’s top-ranked team ran through Big 12 Conference play undefeated for the second straight season. Only two other teams have accomplished that feat: Nebraska (2010) and Oklahoma (2006). It is a no-brainer to predict the Lady Bears as the winner of this year’s tournament title. With weapons such as record-breaking senior center Brittney Griner and other players who are both offensive and defensive juggernauts, point guard Odyssey Sims and forwards Destiny Williams and Kimetria Hayden, the major fight in the Big 12 tournament will be among the remaining nine teams.
While Iowa State, Oklahoma and Texas Tech hold the next three seeds, the topsy turvy nature of the Big 12, due to the high level of competition, means that they will most likely have to fight tooth and nail during each contest in the conference tournament. Lowly TCU, the last-place team in the conference beat Oklahoma State when it was ranked No. 22 in the nation and about a week and a half later took down then-ranked No. 23 Iowa State.
ISU will face either seven-seed Kansas or 10th-seeded TCU Saturday. This is the fourth time ISU has earned the No. 2 seed in the Big 12 Championships (1998, 1999, 2010, 2013). The Cyclones were picked to finish sixth in the Big 12 preseason poll. They have won 20 games for the 12th time under head coach Bill Fennelly and came back from a 13 point second-half deficit to defeat Oklahoma State, 73-70, on Monday. Junior Hallie Christofferson continues to be one of the most consistent players in the nation. She is fourth in the Big 12 averaging 16.0 points per game and 10th in rebounding at 6.8 boards per game. Three Cyclones have reached the 1,000-point mark this season: Christofferson and seniors Chelsea Poppens and Anna Prins.
With the exception of Baylor, only one Big 12 team has a win streak of more than two games: Oklahoma. Sooner guard Aaryn Ellenberg leads the conference in three point field goal percentage (.428). Oklahoma is (21-9, 11-9) tied for third in the Big 12 with Texas Tech. The Sooners earned the No. 3 seed with a regular-season sweep of the Lady Raiders after a 77-73 victory in Lubbock Monday night. Since losing Whitney Hand to an ACL injury, Joanna McFarland and Sharane Campbell have picked up the slack for the Sooners. They face West Virginia on Saturday. Oklahoma and West Virginia split the regular-season series with each team winning at home. The Sooners opened conference play January 2 with a 71-68 victory in Norman vs. WVU. The Mountaineers defeated the Sooners 82-63 in Morgantown, W.Va., on February 3.
Texas Tech (21-9, 11-7 Big 12) begins play against No. 5 seed Oklahoma State (20-9, 9-9) on Saturday. The teams meet for the third time this year with the Lady Raiders winning both contests during the regular season. In tournament play, Tech holds a 4-1 advantage, winning their last meeting in the tournament in the 2011 opening round, 75-52. The winner of Saturday’s game will play either top-seeded Baylor (29-1, 18-0), Kansas State (14-16, 5-13) or Texas (12-17, 5-13). Kansas State and Texas will play at 6 p.m. Friday with the winner advancing to play Baylor in the quarterfinals. Christine Hyde scored 22 and Chynna Brown added 21 for Texas Tech in their last regular season game, the loss to Oklahoma. TTU’s 11-7 conference record is the best finish for the Lady Raiders since going 12-4 in 2005 in Big 12 play.
Other players to watch: Brittney Chambers (Kansas State, 2nd in scoring the league), Toni Young (Oklahoma State), Carolyn Davis (Kansas), Liz Donohoe (Oklahoma State), Angel Goodrich (Kansas), and Imani McGee-Stafford (Texas)