2009 Phillips 66 Big 12 Women's Basketball Championship Coverage
Mechelle Voepel has covered every Big 12 women's basketball tournament since the league's inception, and every NCAA Women's Final Four since 1993. She has written about women's hoops for ESPN.com since 1996 and also has her own blog, mechellevoepel.com, that focuses on women's sports. If you have any questions about the tournament, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll try to answer them here.
All-tournament team was Morrow (MVP), Player, Medlock, Gant, Smith and Paris. They ended up having five members and also an MVP. I voted for Morrow MVP: She finished with 15, 24 and 12 points in Baylor's three games. Hard to type when your laptop is covered with confetti, which was hot out of the machines here. :) Rachel Allison just dove on the floor and did a "snow angel" except with confetti. Off to interviews.
Do you think didn't mean a lot to Jhasmin Player? Coming back from an ACL that wrecked her junior year, all those hours of rehab and now winning a Big 12 tournament title. Congrats to the Bears. Selection committee, what say you? They won the title WITHOUT Danielle Wilson. Bears 72, TAMU 63. Player has a season-high 25 points.
Kudos to Baylor's defense for making things tougher on Danielle Gant. She really battled, but ended up with 14 points.
Baylor up by eight with 1:23 left, and once again the refs did make the right call.
For all I complain about officiating sometimes, I think this one has been pretty well-done by the stripes. I know the A&M fans don't agree with me now, after La Toya Micheaux just fouled out.
What a great last two minutes of this tournament. I need to go back and crunch numbers, but this feels like one of the best Big 12 tournament in terms of the number of exciting, down-to-the wire games we've had.
I have to say it's hard picking an all-tournament team, period, let alone with 3 minutes left in a tight game. I will tell you who I went with: Danielle Gant, Jessica Morrow, Jhasmin Player, Tanisha Smith and Courtney Paris. I can see an argument against CP ... since she didn't make the final. Maybe I should have put in Takia Starks or Morghan Medlock. Told you it was hard. Also deserving mention are Melissa Jones and Sydney Colson.
Takia Starks has 19, her highest total of the tournament. Still Baylor up 62-58.
Just got the attendance numbers from the Big 12 for this tournament: the total attendance for all six sessions was 35,515, making the average 5,919. the highest attendance, of course, was Saturday's semifinal, with 9,203 with OU involved. Today's crowd is 4,340.
Tyra White gets her first two points of the game on a putback, and cuts Baylor's lead to 57-54.
Danielle Gant and La Toya Micheaux need to practice their celebrating after a basket. What they just did hurt.
Player's high this season is 21 points, which she got Feb. 28 against Texas - the game in which Wilson got hurt.
Jhasmin Player is having her best game of the tournament - 18 points, 5 rebounds.
Rough foul call on Danielle Gant when Jessica Morrow had lost track of the shot clock and was throwing up a prayer.
I think this game may be an indication of where, sometimes, having the big bench can make things complicated for A&M. I think Baylor has a better idea of what everyone's role is.
Kelli Griffin makes her first shot from the field today, giving the Bears a 52-43 lead.
Of course, Baylor has still not officially said it won't have Wilson for the tournament. Steffanie Blackmon played a few years ago for Baylor in the NCAA tournament despite a late-season knee injury.
Jhasmin Player tore her ACL last season at a game I was covering at Kansas State. The Bears still won that game, rather handily in fact, but the team was not the same the rest of the year because of a lack of depth. What Kim Mulkey has been saying since Danielle Wilson was hurt is that this Baylor team is not in the same situation as last year. And if Baylor wins this title, it's hard to penalize them too much for not having Wilson (in terms of NCAA seeding).
Takia Starks back in the game after her brief encounter with Baylor's cheer squad, who tried to get out of her way as fell into them.
So far, Baylor had done a well keeping Danielle Gant from being the dominating factor she was in the first two games. But she can also explode quickly and she has 13:37 left.
Tanisha Smith does not look too happy about whatever Gary Blair was just discussing with her on the sidelines.
Baylor's Kelli Griffin just made a great steal, but she still hasn't made a shot this game.
Kim Mulkey did the ex-point guard stomp in frustration after Baylor botched its final possession, but really she has to be pretty darn happy with how that half turned out. Baylor leads 33-25 at halftime behind Morghan Medlock's 13 points on 6-of-6 shooting. Tanisha Smith has 11 point for A&M, which will have to re-tool its defense at the break. Back soon.
Wow, the Aggies seemed to have no idea what was going in with the shot clock on that possession.
I'll be figuring out my all-tournament team at halftime. Lots of solid contenders for that. So far, Danielle Gant is the leader for MVP, but the outcome of this game, of course, could change that.
What a turnaround in this game when Gant went out and Morghan Medlock turned it on. TAMU shooting just 25.8 percent from the field, while allowing Baylor to shoot 45 percent. That doesn't work for any team, but especially not TAMU.
Danielle Gant back in with 4:15 left and two fouls ... TAMU's defense and rebounding were not the same without her.
Baylor's Melissa Jones ... yet another Colorado kid who didn't stay in Colorado. Imagine what keeping even half of the D-I kids from Colorado at home might have meant to the Buffs in the last six years or so.
You like watching two coaching staffs that are really strategizing on ever possession.
A&M has pretty much locked down on Jessica Morrow, after her 24-point effort yesterday against Iowa State.
Morghan Medlock did in the last two possessions just what Baylor needs her to do: Establish her athleticism inside.
Danielle Gant picks up her second foul, and this is where TAMU's deep bench can show its mettle.
Maybe Baylor will keep us from even asking the question.
Not saying that TAMU is going to win this game. But if it does, what reason is there to not give the Aggies a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament?
Baylor is having trouble establishing its offense, but that's nothing we haven't seen during the first two games, with Oklahoma State and Iowa State. A&M up 15-7, and once again Baylor is going to have to climb out of a hole.
Didn't matter as A&M still scored.
Refs just huddled and made a correction for the right call. Good job. Gary Blair is complaining, but he's not right this time.
Tanisha Smith continues to be the spark for the Aggies, both offensively and defensively.
Hmmm .... another missed shot inside by Gant. The swami predicts those will not continue. Game is tied 5-5 at the timeout and the Baylor Bear mascot is showing that, unfortunately, he is not as good a dancer as Pistol Pete, who is no longer here.
Tanisha Smith hits two free throws ... she's been a big addition for the Aggies in replacing Monenike Atunrase.
Well, you don't see that often - Danielle Gant whiffing a layup. She's as likely to miss a a shot inside as my dog is to miss any scrap of food left too close to the edge of the table. My nickname for her is Jaws. (For my dog, not Danielle Gant.)
Gary Blair use to call A'Quonesia Franklin his energizer bunny - she's been here at the tournament watching by the way - and Sydney Colson had taken on that role this season.
Gary Blair, of course, once was an assistant coach at Louisiana Tech when Kim Mulkey was a player, and they won national championships in 1981 and '82. Their 1982 NCAA title game - the first national championship administrated by the NCAA _ was also the first women's college basketball game I watched: March 28, 1982.
We have a pretty decent turnout today for this game, despite the huge hit taken because the Sooners are not playing. Still some Sooner shirts in the crowd. Kansas State is the other best-represented group of fans still here.
Tune in later today for the tipoff, and we'll see who wins Round 3 between Baylor and A&M. The Bears won both regular-season meetings.
Not trying to harp too much on the South's dominance in the Big 12, but the numbers speak for themselves. For the eighth year in a row, we will have a South division team as the tournament champion. And for the sixth time in these past eight tournaments (including this year) it's an all-South final. There has only been one all-North final: in 1997, the first year of the Big 12.
***TITLE GAME: NO. 2 BAYLOR VS. NO. 4 TEXAS A&M***
DAY 3 WRAPUP
Oklahoma got off to a rough start against Texas A&M, Courtney Paris got in foul trouble, and the Sooners never did get their bearings in this game. Meanwhile, A&M's bench provided solid minutes, Danielle Gant once again put on a show in her hometown and Sydney Colson played a smart, energetic point guard for the Aggies.
Texas A&M won this title last year as a No. 4 seed ... and this team is very similar. The defensive game plans that Texas A&M comes up with are always impressive, and I wonder if assistant Vic Schaefer wants to be a head coach somewhere. Gary Blair gives him a ton of credit for being a defensive mastermind.
What struck me about the Iowa State-Baylor matchup is that the Bears won even though the game was played at a pace and style that more suited the Cyclones. Baylor almost matched ISU 3-pointer for 3-pointer, and that's not easy to do. Baylor has proven it's a deep talented team even without Danielle Wilson, which is what Kim Mulkey has been saying all along.
As for the Cyclones, I think this is a team that did everything it could against two teams that have more speed and athleticism. Iowa State beat one of them, Texas, and went down to the wire with the other. The NCAA tournament is all about matchups, and the Cyclones are an especially hard team to play for those who are unfamiliar with them. Heck, they are hard even for the Big 12 teams used to facing them. With the right draw, this Iowa State team could win a couple of games in the NCAA tournament.
Bill Fennelly on the TAMU-Baylor final: "It could come down to, "Who are the players that you don't expect that will make some plays?" A lot of times, that's what happens in these games. It's someone that you don't expect. It's going to be a very physical game; I don't envy the officials.'
Bill Fennelly on Heather Ezell: "I didn't want to play her, but she's earned that right to make that decision. She wanted to play."
Bill Fennelly: "I still believe that Oklahoma is a No. 1 because of its body of work. I would be shocked if Oklahoma wasn't No. 1. Texas A&M and Baylor could be No. 2s. They are three great teams that will represent our league."
Bill Fennelly: "Jessica Morrow was the first kid on the scouting report: No. 3's. It didn't work out that way. She hit some big ones."
Bill Fennelly: "I thought Joceyln Anderson and Ashley Arlen did a great job. I debated leaving them in longer, but they haven't played a lot of good minutes. Our bench play was very good."
Bill Fennelly: "I think that (Morrow's late 3) - in a game like that, you can't pick one (shot). But that was probably the biggest one."
Iowa State's Heather Ezell: "They did everything they needed to do on the defensive end to stop us."
Iowa State's Heather Ezell: "It's hard to sit out, and I wanted to so some thing for my team as much as I could."
Iowa State's Heather Ezell: "I went through shoot-around this morning and didn't have any pain. It's not giving me any problems now."
Iowa State's Bill Fennelly: "Baylor is an outstanding team, worthy of their ranking. It's fun to be part of the best conference in the country."
Baylor's Kim Mulkey on Rachel Allison: "She's become the Rachel that we know. Some of that was that she drew a lot of attention that she didn't draw in years past. I think Rachel fought through it, and it's good to see her come out of that."
Baylor's Kim Mulkey on Heather Ezell: "Actually, when I hugged Bill before the game, I asked about Heather, and he said she would probably play tonight. Warrior - all his kids are those kinds of players. You can have a 20 point lead on him and not feel comfortable."
Baylor's Kim Mulkey: "I want to say Bill Fennelly is one of the best coaches I've gone against in this business."
Baylor's Jhasmin Player on Melissa Jones: "If I'm going to come off a screen, I want MJ setting it."
Baylor's Rachel Allison on facing A&M next: "Who else would we want to face? They are a great team, athletic. I think they are a good matchup for us."
Baylor's Jessica Morrow on her scoring success: "I think it was flow of the offense. My teammates did a good job of setting screens and getting me open looks."
The Cyclones did all they could but in the end, Baylor just had too much for them. The Bears win 63-57, led by Jessica Morrow's 24 points. Headed to the interview room.
This is a prize-fight kind of finish, isn't it? Big 3 by Jessica Morrow with 1:49 left ...Iowa State doesn't score after this.
A combined 17 3-pointers in this game, compared to a total of six in the first semifinal between TAMU and OU.
That last shot just showed you that Heather Ezell's hand really is hurt.
Amanda Nisleit cans a 3 and the Cyclones are up 47-46 with 6:20 left. Jessica Morrow has only scored once this half after having 11 points in the first half.
Timeout, with Baylor clinging to a 44-42 lead. Impressive how Fennelly uses his bench based on different situations. Yesterday, Jocelyn Anderson was a non-factor, playing 4 minutes. Today, she has two points, six rebounds and has played some effective minutes on defense.
Tell you another thing that's sad, speaking of knees: Toccara Ross, who missed most of the 2007-2008 season with a knee injury, never has gotten back in form this season for the Cyclones.
Fennelly's teams have always stayed true to form. Iowa State has been the top 3-point shooting team in the Big 12 every season, and that's what's helping bring the Cyclones back in this game. They are 8 of 16 from long range.
Amanda Nisleit, a Fennelly favorite for her work ethic, just hit a 3-pointer and had cut Baylor's lead to 42-35.
Kansas State players are here watching the ISU-Baylor game, BTW. Not sure anyone quite expected that the Wildcats, who had lost by 26 points to TAMU in the regular season, would play the Aggies much better in the Big 12 tournament than Oklahoma did. But it works that way sometimes. TAMU coach Gary Blair is touting the Wildcats for a top- four seed, but that doesn't seem too likely to happen.
Good news for Iowa State is Nicky Wieben has found the basket again after struggling so much yesterday. She's 5 of 8 for 12 points.
Speaking of which, Rachel Allison just made a nice cut to the basket and has nine points. It's such a shame that Danielle Wilson has to be watching this game instead of playing in it. Stupid knees.
We're starting the second half, and we'll see if Baylor's Jessica Morrow stays as big a factor. She has 11 points on 4 of 8 shooting.
The half ends with Baylor still up 28-22, and Iowa State's Alison Lacey has not been much of a factor. After having 25 points last night, she has just three points in the first half and has taken three shots.
Baylor has a 28-22 lead and had been able to run its offense better today than last night.
A member of the Baylor band has kind of Erika Arriaran hair - well, it's standing straight up in a bun-looking thing. Except it's painted green and yellow, and Erika would NEVER choose those colors if she painted her hair.
Didn't you just know Heather Ezell would find a way to play in this game? Tough kid.
I know. How could a robot be programmed to call a basketball game, right? I have a lot of dumb ideas.
Heather Ezell hits a 3-pointer, which had got to perk up the 'Clones.
Baylor is up 20-14 and if nothing else, the Bears look much more crisper tonight than they did early in last night's game.
Incidentally, there is no chance that they will ever go to no DQs for fouls. That's just me (and Carol Ross) yacking. See, I also want actual robots for refs, total emotionless ones who can't be influenced by the crowd or the situation. Except not robots like Rosie on "The Jetsons" ...she was just way too human-like. :) Plus, I love the idea of Gary Blair arguing with a robot.
Bill Fennelly called him self a "card-carrying member of the Rachel Allison fan club" last night. He loves the way she plays. He may not be such a big fan today, though. BTW, Rachel's mom is doing the Phillips 66 shooting contest right now during a timeout. She made the shots from all five spots, although it did take a few misses. Still, way to represent, mom!
Check out the Cyclones' newest 3-point threat: Denae Stuckey!!!
In fact, I would say he made of point of saying she would not play today. Hmmmm...
Well, I guess things changed for Heather Ezell. Bill Fennelly said last night she would not play today. She's playing today.
BTW, expect the national pile-on for Courtney Paris because the Sooners lost in the Big 12 tournament. It's just gonna happen. People love to bash.
I think it was interesting what Gary Blair said in his press conference, that "they" wouldn't allow the Big 12 to get two No. 1 seeds. I assume he must be talking about the "they" that is the selection committee. Of course, the committee always says conference affiliation has nothing to do with how they pick. So if that's the case, then why couldn't the Big 12 have two No. 1s? That's the question Kim Mulkey asked last night.
2nd SEMIFINAL: No. 2 Baylor vs. No. 3 Iowa State
OU's Danielle Robinson: "This is the final stretch, we're only guaranteed one more game now. We have to learn from it."
OU's Courtney Paris: "I don't think it's just the shooters have to make shots. It's a team effort, and everybody's got to help."
OU's Danielle Robinson on TAMU's Colson: "She had a great game today. She wanted it, and especially when they had momentum, she really sparked it. She had a great game."
OU's Courtney Paris: "It's my fault. My fouls came off situations I could have controlled."
Oklahoma's Courtney Paris: "A&M did a great job, but we weren't as tough as we usually are."
Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale on A&M: "I thought they were hungry, they competed at a high level. I thought they fought for 40 minutes and they deserve to play for the championship."
Gary Blair on Danielle Gant: "Not much to say, you all can write about it. She does it all. She just wants to win. Isn't it a shame she's not on all those All-American lists. That's not how the game of basketball is played. It's about doing the little things. She does the little things and she's hard to guard."
Gary Blair: "You play Courtney by fronting her, ball pressure and praying for help."
Gary Blair on what Takia Starks contributed despite shooting struggles: "Two comments on that: First, Starks has got to fill up the right side of the stat sheet. (But) she did great on the defensive end. You see this at the upper levels all the time. I can leave you in if you play the game."
Gary Blair: "I wish more coaches would say, 'That's a damn good team,' instead of just, 'They play hard.' "
Gary Blair says that he still expects Oklahoma to get a No. 1 seed, and his team and Baylor to get No. 2 seeds.
TAMU's Danielle Gant: "This one ranks as one of the best, knowing that our three seniors have a chance to go out with another Big 12 championship."
TAMU's Sydney Colson: "Whether Whitney Hand was injured or not, we were ready to guard anybody. We know that our style of play is just to come after them hard."
Gary Blair: "The last time we beat Oklahoma at our place, our fans thought we won the national championship. But we haven't won anything yet."
TAMU coach Gary Blair on keys to victory: "Defense, rebounding, percentage shots, point-guard play."
Iowa State and Baylor up next. Off to the interview room.
Texas A&M wins with what coaches love to call "total team effort," 74-62. Danielle Gant was amazing for a second game in a row, but everybody contributed to this one. And don't you love the Aggies' school spirit? I do. Love the Aggie band, too.
Congratulations to Sydney Colson .... we've all talked a lot about her knee injury, and the resolve she has showed coming back from it is kind of mind-boggling. With the Aggies losing A'Quonesia Franklin from last season, they really needed Colson. And she had come through.
The other issue for OU - even if you throw out any issues with officiating - is how poorly the Sooners have shot the ball.
That said, don't think this result is anything but a tribute to the preparation and hard work of A&M. This team has been coming along all season, and remember this is the second time they beat OU. I think the big question now is about who from the Big 12 might get a No. 1 seed. Does this cost OU a No. 1?
That should get things stirred up, huh? :)
Former Florida and Ole Miss coach Carol Ross, who's now an assistant with the Atlanta Dream, was doing TV commentary last week for the SEC tournament and suggested the radical idea of eliminating DQ's for fouls all together. Of course, being a fellow radical, I like the idea. In fact, I've ALWAYS thought that, but I know I'm in, like, 1 percent of the population. (If that). And I know people could find a million things wrong with it, and it won't happen in a million years. Just throwing it out there. I like seeing the best players play, not sit.
Well, that's it for Courtney Paris, as Mr. Enterline furthers his wild popularity in Oklahoma with one more whistle. If OU is to pull this out of the fire, the Sooners will have to do it without CP.
Meanwhile, the Sooners have 48 points and their season low this year is 56. They had that twice - in a win over Baylor and in a loss to Texas A&M.
By the way, a long, long streak has ended. Old Dominion's women have lost, to Drexel, in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament today, the first time that's happened to the Monarchs since they joined the league for the 1991-92 season. They had won the tourney and accompanying automatic bid for 17 years in a row.
This is starting to look a lot like last season, when Texas A&M was the top Big 12 team by the end of the year and won the league tournament (also as a No. 4 seed). There's still 7 minutes for OU to turn it around, but time is running out fast.
Courtney Paris picks up her fourth foul, drawn by Takia Starks, and is going to have to leave the game again.
TAMU's Tanisha Smith has 13 points, which means she's been in double figures in scoring seven of her last eight games. The 6-0 junior out of Kansas City is really playing well down the stretch for the Aggies.
The Sooners have to get their defense in gear if they are going to come back in this game. Danielle Gant's 3-point play against Ashley Paris didn't help in that regard. Aggies 45, OU 33.
OK, just have to say this, the Sooner "Horse" is the cutest mascot at this tournament. If the Aggies still brought their real-live dog, Reveille VIII, to basketball games, I'd think differently, and she would be the cutest.
Takia Starks makes her first shot from the field ... TAMU up 33-30.
Good sprinkling of purple still in the crowd today as some of the K-State faithful stayed to watch this semifinal. Right now, like Texas, K-State's focus in on where they'll be headed next. The closest NCAA subregional for K-State would be Iowa City, but it's difficult to say where the Wildcats will be shipped. Surely at least one of the Big 12's Texas teams will be placed in Lubbock, Texas, since Texas Tech will not be in the tournament. A&M coach Gary Blair, always the campaigner, made a pitch to "go home to Lubbock" yesterday in his postgame press conference. He is a Texas Tech grad.
Courtney Paris starts the half hitting two free throws, which is perhaps a good omen for OU.
Both teams shot 27 percent from the field in the first half. Essentially, the shooting stunk on hot ice. Be back for second half soon.
Aggies get a putback at the buzzer to give them a 29-21 halftime lead. The crowd loudly boos the referees exiting, which coincides with the Chik-Fil-A cows walking out on the court for a little promotional contest. One of the cows is wearing a ref shirt, so maybe they are booing him, too.
Courtney Paris back in to the close out the half, but the Sooners couldn't get the ball to her on that possession.
Oklahoma is struggling from both the field (5 of 20) and the foul line (9 of 18). This is going to be an ugly first-half box score for the Sooners. Thing is, it's not going to look much better for Aggies, who are currently shooting 28 percent from the field.
Texas A&M is so deep that it's presented a challenge for Blair to get all his players as many minutes as he'd like to give them.
OK, Ashley Paris is back in, let's see how she responds to her time on the bench.
Starks' shooting woes continue, which is part of what's keeping the Aggies from being able to extend their lead.
Who would have figured that TAMU would have a 10-point lead with Takia Starks being 0 of 6 from the field?
Both Courtney and Ashley Paris are out the the game, and Abi Olajuwon is in.
Texas A&M coach Gary Blair said earlier this year that his issue with guard Sydney Colson was how she sometimes "thinks" too much out on the court. He said the coaches' message to her was, "K.I.S.S. You know that's usually, 'Keep it simple, stupid.' With us it's, 'Keep it simple, Sydney.' "
OU just got another field goal - it's been a little drought here - as Amanda Thompson scored. We are discussing on press row how much officiating can affect games and wondering if six fouls per player would be a better system.
It will be interesting to see how the Sooners deal with CP sitting ... this is another opportunity for the rest of the team to show what else they have.
Aggies have gotten a lift from Tanisha Smith, who has five points. They just got another boost from Damitria Buchanan, who drew a charge on Courtney Paris. Now, CP has picked up her third foul. Whoa.
Ref Bryan Enterline vs. coach Sherri Coale. That's like the Grinch vs. Santa to Sooner fans. And they are letting Mr. Enterline know, too.
Talking to Texas coach Gail Goestenkors last night, she was pointing out how much Danielle Robinson's speed and length on defense affect other team's offenses. She "steals" shot clock time away from them by disrupting them bringing the ball down and also often forces them to start their offense further back than they want to.
CP just got on the board for the Sooners with a 3-point play that was vintage Courtney - scoring off an offensive rebound in traffic inside. A lot of traffic.
Whitney Hand drove the lane with TK Starks giving her heck the whole way. Hand still looking her first basket after returning from her injury.
Danielle Gant just drew the foul against Courtney Paris and finished. Will Gant be as effective today against the Sooners' defense as she was against Kansas State? OU has more athleticism on the perimeter.
Ashley Paris, who had a pretty quiet game against Kansas, just had a nice finish in transition.
Texas A&M fans are just slightly outnumbered here (by approximately 100-1 or so) but the Aggie boosters are seated right behind me, so they still sound pretty loud.
Courtney Paris does a little more dribbling than we're used to seeing on OU's opening possession, which does not end with a finish. But D-Rob just put in the first points for the Sooners.
Danielle Robinson seems to have survived her introductory chest bump with Abi Olajuwon, so we are ready to go.
1st SEMIFINAL: No. 1 Oklahoma vs. No. 4 Texas A&M
DAY TWO WRAPUP
Most improbable shot of the day goes to Iowa State's Denae Stuckey, whose 3-pointer at the 3:32 mark tied Texas at 50-50. It was just the second 3 she has made all season ... on a team of long-range bombers, she's the defensive specialist. But she nailed this one, and it was a pivotal moment in the Cyclones' 59-55 victory.
Alison Lacey, who passed Stuckey the ball, said, "I was screaming; she was excited. I heard the coaches were pretty excited on the bench as well."
Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly didn't have his leading 3-point shooter, Heather Ezell, who was out with a hand injury suffered in practice Wednesday. He said if it had been the potential last game of the season, Ezell would have tried to play. But since Iowa State's NCAA tournament bid is sewn up, he wants her to focus on getting healthy for that tournament. And the rest of the Cyclones filled in well for her Friday, led by Lacey with 25 points, including 5 3-pointers.
Strangely enough, Texas also didn't have its senior point guard at full strength, either. Carla Cortijo fractured her index finger in the Missouri game Thursday, but still tried to play Friday. She was in for 16 minutes and scored five points, but Texas coach Gail Goestenkors said Cortijo hit her finger again during Friday's game and was in too much pain to stay in the game.
Baylor had the best turnaround, rallying from down 15 early in the second half to beat Oklahoma State 67-62. The Bears did a lot right in their comeback, but a big thing was that they went 18 of 20 from the foul line in the second half. Baylor shot only one free throw in the first half.
The other exciting game Friday was the second quarterfinal, when Texas A&M held off Kansas State 65-63. It was a bit of a deja-vu ending for K-State, which lost 66-65 in overtime to Iowa State in last year's Big 12 quarters. In that game, Shalee Lehning had a buzzer-beating shot that bounced around and out. This year, that happened to Ashley Sweat.
Sweat, though, was put in a tough position. She was tossed the ball after a mad scramble under the basket when K-State's play had broken down. Sweat was basically the only Wildcat still upright at that point.
Most clutch shot of the day goes to TAMU's Danielle Gant, who scored on a clear-out with 23 seconds left for the game-winner.
"We knew she was going to take the shot," K-State's Marlies Gipson said of Gant. "And the great player that she is, she stepped up and knocked it down."
As for Saturday's games:
Semifinal No. 1: No. 1 Oklahoma vs. No. 4 Texas A&M: The two split regular-season meetings, each winning on its home court. OU took the first meeting, 71-59 on Jan. 18. The second meeting was Feb. 23, and OU had just lost Whitney Hand to an injury the game before. The Aggies won 57-56 on Takia Starks' basket with 6 seconds left. The key when these two meet up is how well the Aggies' inside game can hold up, defensively, against the Paris twins. The Sooner do have the defenders to help slow Gant, which Kansas State couldn't do.
Semifinal No. 2: No. 2 Baylor vs. No. 3 Iowa State: The Bears won their regular-season matchup 68-57 on Jan. 14 in Waco. Baylor has a 10-5 edge in the series and had won the last five meetings. Fennelly said Ezell will not play in this game, so the Cyclones are going to again need a strong performance from Lacey. But they also could use a better game from Nicky Wieben, who was 4 of 17 for 10 points against Texas.
GG on Alison Lacey: "She was so focused and motivated and made us pay for every mistake we made on the defensive end. I think I need to go back to Australia and start recruiting again."
GG: "Most of our losses have been to ranked teams, so they're not bad losses. But confidence could be an issue, so I'm glad we have some time to practice."
GG: "Everything we need to work on our things we have control over - little things that make a difference in big games."
GG: "Carla runs the show for us, so when she's not out there, we have two freshmen. Yvonne Anderson had a key turnover and Ashleigh Fontenette had a traveling call. You'd just prefer to have your senior point guard out there."
GG: "Carla - she hurt her index finger in the last game. She fractured it in three places. She hit it during the game again and was in a lot of pain. I didn't feel comfortable putting her back in the game."
Texas' Brittainey Raven on Carla Cortijo only playing 16 minutes because of an injury: "Carla runs our team, and when she's in I think everybody is comfortable. But it's not excuse, we needed to step up for her."
Texas' Ashley Gayle: "It's frustrating, but I know I've got to bring that energy every game. Not just tonight."
Texas' Brittainey Raven: "You have to take advantage of every possession. For us, unfortunately we had a turnover and a couple of quick shots at the end of the game that really hurt us."
Texas coach Gail Goestenkors: "It was rough, congrats to Iowa State. I know it was tough for them with Ezell out, but Alison Lacey basically put them on her shoulders and said, 'We will not lose this game.' And that's what happened.
Fennelly: "Right now this moment is ours to enjoy tonight, we won't talk about Baylor tonight with our players."
Fennelly on his bench: "All we told them is Heather plays 35 minutes, we've got to make it up somewhere."
Fennelly: "Our effort was really good the last four minutes, we had to guard a lot of inbounds plays because we kept tipping it out of bounds."
Fennelly on Heather Ezell: "She will not play tomorrow. My thing was, she has done so much for our team, she deserves the right to play as healthy as she can for the NCAA tournament. She did a great job on the bench, she looks like a coach, acts like a coach."
ISU coach Bill Fennelly on Denae Stuckey's 3: "We told her if she was open, she had to shoot it. It's one of those plays where you don't design it."
ISU's Alison Lacey: "I haven't been shooting great this year, so I had to kick up my 3-point shooting. I'm glad it happened tonight."
ISU's Kelsey Bolte: "I kind of looked around and thought I was letting my teammates down in the first half."
ISU's Alison Lacey: "Heather scores 12 points a game, 35 minutes, she's emotional and drives our team. With her out of the game, everyone had to step up."
Nicky Wieben makes a free throw and closes out a 59-55 Iowa State victory. Fantastic game for Alison Lacey with 25 points. Headed to interview room.
Texas isn't quite dead yet, but it would take a miracle. Down three with 1.6 seconds left and Iowa State has the ball. Unfortunately for the Longhorns, it isn't Missouri inbounding the ball.
Ashleigh Fontenette travels ..lowa State has Bolte on the line, and she's even better there than Lacey: 86.5 percent. Swish ... swish. Clones by six, about to close out victory that is most impressive without Ezell.
Bolte knocks the ball away from a driving Raven, grabs it and saves it to her team. Alison Lacey was fouled, and you can count on her at the stripe, where she shoots 81.9 percent. She sinks both, and Iowa State leads 56-52, 27.9 second left. Any magic left for Horns?
Kelsey Bolte's jumper just put the Cyclones ahead 54-52 with 52.4 seconds left. Well, we know the last minute went well for the Longhorns last night against Missouri. Let's see what they have in them now.
This is reminding me of the 2006 quarterfinals, when all four games were decided by single digits.
Two free throws have the Cyclones up by two.
Well, we couldn't have asked for much more on this day, could we? Three of the four quarterfinals have all been down-to-the-wire games.
Who says Denae Stuckey can't shoot? She just nailed a 3-pointer to tie the game at 50.
A lot is on Alison Lacey's shoulders now for Iowa State, just as it has been all game.
Timeout with 4:50 left ... again, it's looking a lot like the last time these teams met. Problem is, this is where the Cyclones really miss Ezell.
Texas guard Ashleigh Fontenette has scored two times in a row inside and given the Longhorns a 48-45 lead.
Stuckey just had the difficult chore of trying to keep Brittainey Raven from turning the corner on her. Raven drew the foul.
Denae Stuckey is, of course, known as being the only player Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly ever recruited despite knowing she couldn't shoot well. Her defense and quickness, though, were what got her a scholarship.
Texas' Erika Arriaran, who's gone with the much more understated hair for this tournament, has six points. She made clutch shots down the stretch at the game at Iowa State in February.
The Raven airball that was just launched suggests we perhaps should not read much into her earlier 3-pointer. Then again, that is Texas this year: You don't quite know what you're going to get next from the Longhorns.
The "Dance Cam" shown on the JumboTron during timeouts really just goes to show that most people can't dance, but that everybody should try.
Brittaney Raven just hit a 3-pointer, her second of the night. We'll see if this sparks a little Raven Run.
Texas and Iowa State are tied 36-36. This game does seem kind of like the first matchup, Feb. 15 in Ames: Iowa State led by six at halftime then, but it was tight throughout the second half.
Iowa State's Nicky Wieben probably feels like SHE is shooting a greasy bowling ball. She's 4 of 13 from the field. The fact that the Longhorns' lanky post players sometimes appear to have 6-foot long arms probably hasn't helped Wieben.
The Iowa State band was just chanting during Texas' free throws, "You're shooting a greasy bowling ball!" Actually, with the way their shots seem to carom wildly off the rim and backboard, the Longhorns sometimes look like they're shooting a superball.
Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly just pulled freshman guard Whitney Williams to get some instruction from assistant Jodi Steyer after Williams' turnover.
Back for the second half, as Kathleen Nash just hit a jumper to bring Texas within two, 30-28. This Texas team looks like a hybrid of what Goestenkors inherited and what her style looked like at Duke. It's transitioning to what she really wants it to look like.
Here's a look at Baylor assistant coach Leon Barmore and what this season's been like for him: http://sports.espn.go.com/ncw/columns/story?columnist=voepel_mechelle&id=3977710
The first half ends with Iowa State up 27-23, and Texas having thrown up enough bricks to build a fireplace. Well, maybe not that many, but it wasn't pretty. Texas was 9 of 30 from the field, 1 of 8 from 3-point range.
Iowa State is getting quite a game from Alison Lacey, who has 14 points as the Cyclones lead 27-23.
And a little more on that 1995 Duke NCAA Tournament appearance, which is relevant in respect to what happened last night in Madison Square Garden ... Duke lost in the second round in QUADRUPLE overtime to Alabama, 121-120. So those players could relate a bit to the Connecticut and Syracuse guys who went six OTs last night.
Looking back at Gail Goestenkors' time at Duke, it was in her third season where the Blue Devils really started to elevate and play the way she wanted them to. That season, 1994-95, they upset Virginia on the way to the ACC tournament final and then made the NCAA tournament. That was then just Duke's second appearance in the NCAA field.
I don't want to make Iowa State fans upset ... but it's kind of hard to remember that the Cyclones are actually the higher seed here (No. 3 to Texas' No. 6.) I say that because the Longhorns were ranked higher than the Cyclones most of this season and they won the head-to-head matchup with ISU.
I would say this Texas-ISU game is going the way the Cyclones might want it to, as it's 15-15 with 8 minutes left. But I don't think the Longhorns mind how it's going, either.
Texas Tech coach Kristy Curry, meanwhile, said Thursday night that the Raiders are not interested in going to the WNIT. I have a feeling that is not welcome news to their fans. Maybe the thought is it's too complicated because United Spirit Arena is hosting the early rounds of the NCAA tournament, but still ...
It's interesting that Oklahoma State came into its press conference very upbeat, too, despite losing the lead they had and falling to Baylor. Coaches dictate this - if they come into a locker room downcast or mad, the kids look at a game that way, too. If they come in focusing on the positives, the players do, too. This was a disappointing season for the Cowgirls, but at this point there is no purpose in dwelling on that. They have a chance to play very well - maybe even win - the WNIT. That counts for something.
OK, I mentioned Kansas State had walked through the arena before ... the Wildcats are back in, sitting and watching this Texas-ISU game. K-State's mood after their 2-point loss to Texas A&M earlier today was actually very upbeat. Which it should be: The Wildcats aren't likely to face too many teams in the NCAA tournament that they'd have any tougher time matching up with than TAMU, at least not in the early rounds. Of course, they did get a bad matchup last year with Louisville in the second round.
Iowa State freshman Whitney Williams, getting some time because Ezell is out, just hit a 3-pointer. That was her 14th of this season.
When these two teams met at Iowa State on Feb. 15, it was close for most of the second half, but there was a definite sense that Iowa State was more in control. The Longhorns, though,took over in the last minute or so and that's where the game was decided.
Texas tends to go as Brittainey Raven goes ... if she's struggling, the Longhorns' offense can be really uneven.
Weird how you can play all year and then hurt your shooting hand in practice the day before the league tournament, isn't it? That's what happened to Iowa State's Heather Ezell, who had started every game this season but is not playing tonight.
++++4th QUARTEFINAL: Iowa State vs. Texas++++
OSU's Kurt Budke: "It goes back to what we've done all year long - one bad half, one good half."
OSU's Andrea Riley on the late charge: "I think the referee made the correct call. We didn't want the charge, but you've got to learn from that."
OSU's Shaunte Smith: "I'm very happy with what all I've accomplished with this team. I'm blessed to have the Sweet 16 and the (Big 12) championship game last year."
OSU's Andrea Riley: "Sometimes the ball just doesn't get into the basket. Baylor's defense is tough to face, because they're very long and athletic."
OSU coach Kurt Budke: "You saw today kind of what we've done all year long. I think we can play 25-30 minutes with everybody. But what you might have seen is having to play yesterday. But I'm very proud of the kids, there's no quit in them. I'm excited about any future play we might have this year, if we get to go to the WNIT."
Baylor's Kim Mulkey on rebounding: "I thought the first half we were out-hustled, and if we had lost the game, that's where we would have lost it. We made a conscious effort of telling (her players), "Position yourselves a little further from the rim." The bench was tremendous for us - Melissa Jones and Morghan Medlock. Please acknowledge those two kids."
Baylor's Kim Mulkey: "We're not going away. We have depth. If we're the conference that everybody says we are, then two teams from this conference ought to be No. 1 seeds, and I want someone to tell me why not."
Baylor's Kim Mulkey on how good defense was on Andrea Riley, who went 0-for-10 in the second half: "I don't think that's by accident."
Baylor's Kim Mulkey on Morghan Medlock's 3-pointer (just her second of the season): "That's one of those, 'What is she doing? .. Great shot!' "
Baylor's Jessica Morrow on the loss to Kansas last week and what's different: "It was Kansas' senior night, and I think a lot of teams would have lost there. I think we did a good job of coming back and getting ourselves together."
Baylor's Jessica Morrow: "Riley is probably one of the hardest people I've ever guarded in the Big 12. She has screens set for her everywhere. (But) everybody else was there to help out."
Baylor's Jessica Morrow: "We knew Oklahoma State was playing for something: They had to win the tournament to go to the NCAA tournament. We didn't want their motivation to outweigh our motivation."
Baylor's Melissa Jones: "When you have some of the leaders out there, they really set a good example for us to follow."
Baylor's Melissa Jones on drawing the late charge against Andrea Riley: "Kind of in the right place at the right time."
Baylor's Jessica Morrow: "At halftime, we knew what we were doing wrong. They outrebounded us and we knew if we had any chance we'd have to keep chipping away."
Headed to the interview room.
Baylor pulls out a 67-62 win and the Cowgirls are going to wonder how they let this slip away. Perhaps watching their discipline on offense in the first half vs. a gradual erosion of it in the second half explains it. That and Baylor's resolve. Still, very, very disappointing for the Cowgirls, which unfortunately describes their season, too.
Can Oklahoma State send this one to OT? Nope! Riley airballs, and Melissa Jones is going to the line with 2.8 seconds left. She makes both, and it's going to be a pretty amazing Baylor comeback victory. The Bears took a timeout for some inexplicable reason. Kurt Budke isn't even talking to his team. He just told them to go back on the court, where they're standing waiting for Baylor.
Wow. Melissa Jones just drew a charge, giving Baylor possession back. Jessica Morrow goes to the line with 13.7 seconds left. She made both. Timeout, and Baylor has a 65-62 lead.
Kansas State's players just passed through the Cox Center, walking past the court. Not staying to see how this one ends ... although Shalee Lehning did give the court a lingering look.
Jhasmin Player misses again, but Baylor is finally getting some offensive rebounds. This was a big one by Rachel Allison ... but then Jessica Morrow was called for a charge.
Baylor just took the lead on Kelli Griffin's two free throws, 63-62! Oklahoma State has been disorganized offensively the last few possessions.
And proof that shooters don't stop shooting ... Player just made a jumper. So it's 3 of 15. Timeout with 2:09 left and OSU up 62-61. This one is matching the TAMU/KSU game in terms of suspense after all. Didn't look like it for a while.
Baylor's Jhasmin Player has had a really rough night from the field - 2 of 14 - but she's playing with a lot of energy on defense.
Another step-through move by Rachel Allison leads to a foul, which was Tegan Cunningham's fifth.
Andrea Riley just made another one of those kamikaze drives where she didn't seem much in control. The ball hit the bottom of the backboard.
Block by OSU's Megan Byford ... who might get some love from Oklahoma Sooner fans, despite her orange attire. Her dad was an offensive lineman for OU's football team from 1979-81.
Morghan Medlock hits a jumper, and we have a tie game! 54-54!
I don't know what it is, exactly, that makes some players just have a "nose for the ball," but I do know Baylor's Melissa Jones is that kind of player.
Rachel Allison must be thinking, "What just happened to the ball?" Andrea Riley ripped it from her hands and raced downcourt. She was fouled and made both free throws, giving OSU a six-point cushion. Which isn't much of a cushion.
Whoa! Morghan Medlock just hit from downtown _ which was just the second 3-pointer she's made all season. It was only her fourth attempt.
The Baylor fans are on their feet, trying to spur the team's momentum burst. There is one guy who has painted himself half green/half yellow. Another guy painted himself yellow. He's pretty muscular, so I'm not sure why he didn't go for green and "The Hulk" look. I can honestly say I've never had the slightest desire to paint myself, although I wonder what it would look like on press row if I did. I'd have to pick a neutral color, except I'm not sure I could find one for the Big 12 tournament ... well, maybe sky blue?
Morghan Medlock just hit a short turnaround jumper from the block, and Baylor could really use a few more of those from her. Baylor has cut into the lead, though, and it's 43-36 with 14:06 left. Riley has been a little "wild" on OSU's last couple of possessions.
If there's a time for Baylor to make a move, it's now. OSU is up 43-32, but the Cowgirls seem to have hit a bit of an offensive lull and Baylor seems to be showing a little more spark. But we'll see if it materializes into anything for the Bears.
Kurt Budke was asked last night if Andrea Riley's suspension for the final game of the regular season - a loss to Nebraska - did help the Cowgirls in terms of improving their chemistry. Which may sound like a strange question ... except it really appears that it did. Budke said he wasn't sure, but he did like the way Riley had set up her teammates against Texas Tech. Tonight, she is doing that pretty well against Baylor, too.
We get a chance tonight to see two Australian players: Tegan Cunningham, playing now for Oklahoma State, and Alison Lacey, who'll suit up for Iowa State against Texas next.
Oklahoma State outrebounded Baylor 28-17 in the first half, and the Cowgirls just got the first board of the second half, too. There's no way for Baylor to win this game if that keeps up. They have to be better on the boards.
*** Halftime ***
Well, this is really something - Oklahoma State is only 15-14. And after going 4-12 in the Big 12, the Cowgirls have to win this tournament and the automatic bid to make the NCAA field. But if you were just watching this game, you'd swear they had to be an NCAA tournament-level team. They lead Baylor 37-26 at halftime.
Jessica Morrow has been Baylor's best offensive threat so far, but it says something about Baylor's struggles offensively that they are not getting to the rim and have only one free-throw attempt thus far.
Baylor assistant Leon Barmore reminds of one of the lions you might see on a nature show ... I won't say "old" but, rather, "mature" ... who sit very placidly as if they are not paying much attention to what's going on. Hah! They are seeing everything.
Oklahoma State coach Kurt Budke made a point of praising Andrea Riley's point guard play as what helped bring the Cowgirls back in their game with Texas Tech. She's been very solid tonight, too, with nine points and three assists. The Cowgirls still have a 10-point lead and Pistol Pete is dancing. He's actually not a bad dancer for a guy who's so top heavy in the giant-head department.
Rachel Allison's step-through move just earned her a 3-point play, but she didn't make the free throw.
Oklahoma State is clobbering Baylor on the boards, 23-12, and that is a big part of why the Cowgirls have a 10 point lead.
Oklahoma State's Megan Byford has five points and four rebounds, and she is holding her own inside. Andrea Riley's 3-pointer has the Cowgirls up by 12 already, and Kim Mulkey is really perturbed with her team's defense.
Well, Oklahoma State has early control of this game and has really made it hard on Baylor's offense to get into any kind of rhythm. Baylor is being forced to settle for perimeter shots - Melissa Jones just hit one - but isn't getting much penetration or post presence.
Baylor post Rachel Allison has not really had the kind of senior year she was hoping to, but she could still have a big impact on how this season turns out for her team. It's not like she hasn't had an impact - she's averaged 8.7 points and 6.0 rebounds - but I think more was expected. And with Danielle Wilson out with a knee injury, Allison is needed more than ever by Baylor.
Kristen Hernandez just nailed a 3-pointer for Oklahoma State. She's one of those super-athletic players who I think, when things click for her, can be really a dynamic force for the Cowgirls.
Our ESPN.com picks are posted for player of the year (UConn's Maya Moore) and our first- and second-team All-Americans. The Big 12 player who made it is Oklahoma's Courtney Paris (first team) and the game she played this morning against Kansas is a good example of why. Of course, most of the games she's played for the Sooners are good examples of why.
Well, I guess the first thing that is different about this game compared to last night for the Cowgirls is that they came out sharp and ready to play. That wasn't the case last night against Texas Tech.OSU is up 8-4.
The last time these two met, it went into overtime with Baylor winning 64-62 in overtime in Stillwater, Okla.
Baylor vs. Oklahoma State
+++3rd QUARTERFINAL GAME+++
We'll take a little break before the next session, which begins at 5 p.m. Central time.
Deb Patterson on not calling a timeout on the last possession: "We already had our play calls set and ran what we intended to run. We had that oppotunity before the possession in which they scored."
Shalee Lehning: "We're going to the NCAAs with a lot of confidence. And we're very happy with the progress we've made."
Marlies Gipson on Danielle Gant: "She's a great player, a great competitor. I consider it a blessing to play against her."
Shalee Lehining: "Yeah, it was the exact same emotions (as the Big 12 game against Iowa State last year.) I wouldn't want anybody else taking that shot than (Ashley). Her shots always seem to hit that back rim and fall in."
Deb Patterson: "We saw three of the best post player in the country line up and play tremendous basketball. Both (Gant and Gipson) were huge in keeping their teams competitive. Shalee Lehning did a tremendous job of distributing the ball. For us, we weren't able to drop down the 3-ball. So the scoring we saw from Ashley Sweat and Marlies Gipson were all the more incredible."
Gary Blair on the Big 12: "This is very similar to when I was in the SEC. The strength of this league is the continuity of the coaches. And kids want to come to places where they will be on TV, where people are writing about them. And we're putting butts in the seats."
Gary Blair: "Basically, you look at the stat sheet, they had three in double figures, we had four. Their kids had to play a lot of minutes. In one way, it might be a relief for Kansas State to rest their bodies. K-State is a legit team, has a great chance to get to the Sweet 16."
Gary Blair on Gant: "She has that mentality that refuses to lose. She had to guard everybody on that team. We've got to do a better job of the rest of our kids taking care of their business. Gant is Gant. There is not a better 5-10 player in the country."
Danielle Gant just identified the Wildcats' point-guard play as the difference between today's game and the A&M blowout of KSU two weeks ago. Which shows you how much she knows about basketball. She was very aware that Shalee Lehning was a different player than she was last time.
Adaora Elonu: "The first time we played them, we were putting up every shot we hit."
Danielle Gant: I knew they were going to play good defense, and coach wanted the ball in my hands."
Gary Blair: "People say why do we play conference tournaments? That's why we play them."
Danielle Gant finishes with 22 points, as does Marlies Gipson. Ashley Sweat has 19. Heading to the interview room.
Danielle Gant was the only one to touch the ball, she drove and scored! Then I can't even tell you everything that happened on K-States's last possession ... so much. Lehning dribbles, loses ball, K-State scrambles for it, Sweat takes shot at buzzer, which bounces around a few times and ... falls out. All five K-State players collapse to the floor. A&M wins 65-63 and moves on to the semifinals! Hard to have a better game than that one.
Timeout, and everybody in the building is on the edge of their seats or standing up. What tournament time is all about. Anybody want to bet Danielle Gant will be the one to make the next play for A&M? Not exactly going out on a limb.
Sweat goes to the line after being fouled by La Toya Micheaux. Sweat sinks both, tie game, 40.4 seconds left. This is fantastic fun to watch.
Colson goes to the line after being fouled by Sweat, she's shooting two. Gipson was bottling up Gant on that possession. Colson misses both.
Another timeout, this one by A&M, and the Aggies are up 63-61.
Danielle Gant again ... she's just always the Aggie who is going to make a big play. In close games, there are few players in the Big 12 you'd want on your side more than Gant.
Lehning just drove inside but missed the layup ... A&M leads 61-60 and has the ball. Who would have expected the game to be this close with K-State only making one 3-pointer? Timeout with 2:26 left.
Neat to see: Ashley Sweat got a pass inside from Dani Zanotti and then missed the shot. Sweat then got her own rebound and scored ... but she still called out to Zanotti on the way back down the court, "My fault, you made the pass." It gives you an idea of what kind of teammate Sweat is ... she apologizes for costing somebody an assist even though she ended up scoring anyway.
I've seen Danielle Gant be the difference-maker in so many games this year, in many different ways. She has 16 points today, and it's the way she get some of them that is so impressive is how she battles to keep possessions going and then capitalizes.
But so is Sydney Colson, who has eight points and is running the show for TAMU.
Marlies Gipson at the line ... hits both and puts K-State up by two again. She's having a heck of a game.
Well, K-State's offense amped up and the Aggies are no longer torching the nets. Result: K-State is up 48-46. But there's still 9 minutes left, and the Aggies' defense has a way of wearing teams down and letting them take over.
Ashley Sweat is at the line for K-State. She isn't really old enough to remember former Stanford star Kate Starbird, but that's whom Sweat reminds me of. Both slightly built, 6-2 players who prefer to face up but also can post up and run the floor well. Also, they both wear kneepads. And they're both very bright ... just fun kids to talk to. Except, Starbird's not a kid anymore. But you know what I mean. I remember Starbird's favorite TV show was "Seinfeld" when she was in college. Sweat's favorite is "The Office."
Well, Kansas State has had a little boost her, thanks to an Ashley Sweat and Shalee Lehning ... now the Wildcats have cut the lead to 46-44. This is turning into a pretty compelling game.
By the way, I don't think I'm letting out any state secrets by telling you that we are having a very hard time at ESPN.com in deciding the national coach of the year award. Be interesting to see who it ends up being - at this point, I have no idea how it will go. I'm going to try to put up a poll on my own blog (after this game) to see what fans think.
A little showtime as Colson threw behind the back to Gant for a layup after an A&M steal. It's the example of how quickly the Aggies can turn the tables on you. They lead now 42-34, and somebody besides Gipson is going to have to produce some offense for K-State.
So far, the Wildcats' offense has been all Marlies Gipson; she has 12 points in this game. Ashley Sweat just picked up her third foul.
K-State trailed by 17 at halftime the last time these two played, so it's a good indication that a healthy (or healthier) Shalee Lehning has made some difference. She just drew blood after another dive to the floor incidentally. Her own blood, that is.
The Aggies' offense has also been working really well, too, as evidenced by their 62.5 percent (15 of 24) shooting from the field. Takia Starks and Tanisha Smith are a combined 8 of 13, and K-State has to try slow them to come back in this game.
Well, the Wildcats get a little momentum with Ashley Sweat's basket at the buzzer, but the Aggies have a 36-28 halftime lead and have really been able to make K-State have to work on every offensive possession.
TAMU's defense has been tightening on Kansas State the last few minutes, and it's helped A&M get a 31-24 lead. The Wildcats really do depend on how well they are able to execute what they run. Plus, K-State has just one 3-pointer thus far.
Wow, does Gary Blair have a long bench. And he now has two Kansas City products in the game: Tanisha Smith and Tyra White. I know that White initially had interest in K-State, and she also looked hard at Kansas. Instead, she went south, and had to sit out most of last season with a knee injury and red-shirted.
Yesterday, K-State guard Kari Kincaid talked about how fundamentals are crucial to a player of her size (5-10, supposedly) and athletic ability. She just displayed that, following her own miss, getting the rebound and then re-setting the offensive sequence and scoring.
Texas A&M's Adaora Elonu is a really promising rookie for Gary Blair, and she has four points already.
Timeout with K-State up 18-17 at the 9:25 mark. So far, this is the way the Wildcats want this game to go.
What a hustle play by Marlies Gipson, who stayed back after a Sweat miss, stole the ball from the Aggies and got a layup. Gipson is as good an overall defensive player as I've seen in the Big 12 when it comes to her versatility, effort and the way she "thinks" the game.
Marlies Gipson was caught with the ball and had some words - friendly ones, but she was making her point _ for Ashley Sweat. When you play together since grade school, you know how to communicate.
Kansas State had Shalee Lehning in its previous game with Texas A&M, but she was just coming back after missing time with mono. The Shalee playing today looks pretty different than the one two week ago vs. the Aggies. She already has seven points.
Danielle Gant, who just scored for the Aggies is playing in her hometown. She went to Putnam City West High. It will be interesting to see how Gant is viewed by WNBA teams in the draft. She's 5-11 and doesn't really shoot the 3 for A&M, although coach Gary Blair says she can do it in practice.
Sydney Colson starts with a 3-pointer, and she's had quite a season, hasn't she? Despite an ACL tear over the summer, she's come back to play well for TAMU.
++++2nd QUARTERFINAL: No. 4 TAMU vs. No. 5 K-STATE+++++
Sade Morris on KU's turnaround to play as well as the Jayhawks have the last few weeks: "We embraced how hard it was going to be and how good this league is. We made the turnaround on the defensive end."
D-Mac on OU's defense - "I realized how they were guarding me, but I just tried to slow down and make a basket."
Bonnie Henrickson is talking about the issues with the post game, that the Jayhawks were not able to produce enough inside.
Coale on McCray and defense on her: "I thought McCray was fantastic ... Amanda did a great job, and so did our bigs, we were trapping the ball. Jenny Vining likewise did a great job on Sade. Kansas screens you and screens you."
Coale says she loved the way the game played out - to have the bench be able to get minutes and play so well. And she points out that even though Whitney Hand did not score, she required a defender, which helped CP get more single coverage.
Coale on CP: "She's a driven individual and clearly she senses what time of the year it is. She established herself early and was terrific on both ends of the court."
Amanda Thompson on CP's day: "It built our confidence, she was outstanding today."
Courtney just talked about having to wait to play until today, and said it's been fun watching everybody else, including that Syracuse-UConn game last night. "Of course, we were in bed. Just the highlights," CP said. Coale sitting next to her, made a face like, "I sure hope you were in bed, with an 11 a.m. tipoff."
Courtney: "I've just been ready to play. It's the postseason. I was really feeling it today."
Sherri Coale: "I thought we fought off a hungry and scrappy Kansas team, but in the second half our bench was the story."
Final score, OU 76, Kansas 59. The Sooner were pretty splendid in this game, and unfortunately the score doesn't tell the story of how well KU played for a decent chuck of this game before finally being flattened by the OU steamroller. CP had 27 and 14 _ actually, she WAS the steamroller. Danielle McCray has 22 points. Next up is TAMU vs. K-State. Am off to interviews
Next the question will be whether Kansas will get an NCAA bid, and I have to say I just don't think so. The Jayhawks are a good team, and they really came around at the end of the season. The problem is that they didn't click quite soon enough. If they were 8-8 in the Big 12, it would be different. But 6-10 is tough, in spite of how good the league is. Especially when that includes losses to Colorado, Nebraska and Missouri. All came on the road, and those really, really hurt KU.
BTW, Stevenson has also given McCray some of the same defensive treatment as Thompson did. McCray has taken 15 shots, but she's had to scramble for all of them.
A nod to OU's Nyeshia Stevenson, whose first name vexes me even though she's a junior and I should have it down by now. I still have to double-check every time I write it. Anyway, Stevenson is the kind of player who does a lot of stuff that only coaches and hoops wonks notice. She has just two points in this game, but she's made an impact that isn't summed up by stats.
The score has allowed OU coach Sherri Coale the comfort of letting her other freshman besides Whitney Hand get court time. And so far, guard Jasmine Hartman is making the most of it. She has seven points on 3-of-5 shooting.
OK, now this game has officially turned into a blowout, 70-49, and Courtney Paris isn't even playing. That's because she already did the heavy-lifting to wear down the Jayhawks.
At some point, personnel just become too big a factor in a matchup like this. Oklahoma has got too much of it for the Jayhawks to handle.
Courtney Paris is getting a little rest, and the Jayhawks are trying to take advantage of her absence inside ... and OU just hit another three ... and D-Mac is still finding Amanda Thompson is super-glued to her.
And just like that, Jenny Vining hits from downtown.
The three-pointer is making much impact in this game - the two teams combined are 3 of 13 from behind the arc.
The Sooners may have started to pull away, up by 11 and Kansas is having a very hard time getting Danielle McCray any looks. She's taken only one shot in the second half, which she made. D-Mac has seen a whole lot of Amanda Thompson in her face today.
Courtney Paris' defense has been a big part of this game, too. She has no fouls, while her KU counterparts _ Smith, Sutherland and Boogaard _ have a combined 10.
The officials are going to the tiny "official" TV to see if Amanda Thompson's feet were behind the line on that last shot. They weren't. Two-pointer. Not sure why that took so long.
Jayhawks are not happy about the foul call on Sade Morris, to say the least.
Interesting ... Gary Blair also said that when you have a dominant post playing as well as CP is now, then "The heck with democracy. I know where the ball's going ... and I keep going there until I foul all their post players out." Gary knows hoops, doesn't he?
What a nice pass by Ivana Catic of KU, the senior from Serbia, to Nicollette Smith. I recently did a piece on my blog about Catic that I think sums up a lot about how much the opportunity to play ball here in the U.S. means to foreign-born players.
An observer who certainly has a pretty good idea what he's talking about - Texas A&M coach Gary Blair - just said to me, "Kansas is playing as well as it can." Indeed, the Jayhawks are doing pretty much everything right ... and still trail by six. But their effort reminds me of the way Iowa State played Oklahoma in the 2006 quarters. The Cyclones lost 78-74 but gave everything they had.
Well, here we are at halftime with the Sooners up 36-30. CP3 has 17 and 9, and Amanda Thompson, whom I've negligently omitted thus far, has 10 points. Amanda Thompson is also creating trouble for KU on defense. Danielle McCray, just like yesterday, is having to work for everything she gets. So far she has 14 points, but it's come on 4 of 10 shooting.
Aishah Sutherland is getting quite an education trying to stay with CP3. Well, "education" might be too gentle a word. She's getting a workout. BTW, Ashley just scored.
Ashley Paris hasn't scored yet, but she takes away the valuable defensive help that a team could attempt to use against her sister. Imagine if they'd been triplets.
Courtney Paris is already on the verge of a double-double, as she has 13 points and nine rebounds. The Jayhawks have used Marija Zinic, their 6-2 senior, to spend some time trying to slow CP, as well as rookie Aishah Sutherland (6-2) and sophomore Krysten Boogaard (6-5).
Sade Morris seems to be as dialed in today as she was yesterday. She just hit a jumper for KU and has eight points. Everybody always starts singing "Smooth Operator" around Sade, but that was never my favorite song of hers. I prefer "Paradise."
Courtney Paris is a the foul line, and you know that's been one of the parts of her game she's never been happy with. This season she's at 53.4 percent from the line.
Danielle Robinson just hit a pull-up jumper after a turnover, and that's an important element to her game that has improved. Sherri Coale said it's taken a while for D-Rob to learn just what to do with her blazing speed with the basketball.
The KU fans are getting loud as the Jayhawks are hanging in here. LaChelda Jacobs (how many LaCheldas do you know? Pretty name, isn't it?) just scored for KU, and it's Oklahoma 16, KU 15 with 9:02 left.
Every Kansas game I watch, I end up at some point humming, "It's gonna take a lotta love ..." because, of course, KU's Nicollette Smith makes me think of Nicolette Larsen. How many other Nicollettes (or Nicolettes) do you know? Nicollette Smith just picked up a foul, incidentally.
Krysten Boogaard just found out that "watching" Courtney doesn't do any good. But neither does bodying up against her, and putting your arms straight up and ... look when she gets the ball down where she wants it, as a defender you're pretty dead.
A Kansas fan behind me repeats, "Watch her, watch her, watch her, watch her, watch her!" on every Jayhawk defensive stand. Not sure which Sooner he's referring to with "her" ... maybe all five. Or ... maybe just Courtney Paris. Yeah, I think just Courtney.
Whitney Hand just drove to the basket, fell and got up just fine. You could almost hear the exhale of Sooners fans.
The great news for OU fans is seeing Whitney Hand back in the lineup ... she's been out since breaking her hand Feb. 21.
So the building is a bit fuller than yesterday, because there are no men's games across the street and ... the Sooners are in the house. So far they are up 11-2 and looking very good.
Sorry for the late start folks ... some technical difficulties that can basically be summed up as: I'm not that bright about these things.
----OU vs. KU----
DAY 2: BIG 12 WOMEN'S QUARTERFINALS
Where our motto is: Let's go seven overtimes!!!!
DAY ONE WRAP-UP
The only upset, seeding-wise, was No. 10 Oklahoma State over No. 7 Texas Tech. The closest game was Texas' 61-59 win over Missouri, but that ending creeped out everyone who wasn't a Longhorns fan. MU was up by seven points with 1 minute, 39 seconds left. Then the Tigers could NOT successfully in bound the ball. Within five seconds, the game was tied. Then the Longhorns scored the game-winner on a layup by Brittainy Raven. Missouri went the last 4:39 without scoring.
"I don't feel like we panicked, but we knew better," MU's Alyssa Hollins said. "We should have spaced out and done what we knew how to do. It was happening so fast."
Hollins, MU's only senior, added,"This isn't how I would write it in my book, you know? I'm proud of my team, the way we came out once again, everybody fought hard. I don't think I could ask for much more out of a group of girls."
The best overall game was No. 8 Kansas' 61-56 victory over No. 9 Nebraska, thanks to the Jayhawks' inspired comeback in the second half, in which they shot 56 percent (14 of 25) from the field.
Kansas State's victory over Colorado to start the day was a good example of the offensive execution that the Wildcats love to have. Which brings us to today's quarterfinal action ...
#1 OKLAHOMA vs. #8 KANSAS: The Sooners won the regular-season matchup 69-54, and the same issues that KU had guarding OU's bigs are still going to be there. However, the Jayhawks will be motivated by trying to secure an NCAA Tournament spot.
#4 TAMU vs. #5KSU: The Aggies will do everything they can to disrupt that "pretty" offense, which is something the succeeded in doing when the teams met March 1 in Manhattan. A&M won that game 71-45.
"The last time we played them, I don't know if we were mentally ready for the challenge," K-State's Ashley Sweat said. "If we can come out with the fire, the intensity that we've had the past three games, we can be successful."
#2 BAYLOR vs. #10 OKLAHOMA STATE: The Bears beat the Cowgirls twice during the regular season, with the Feb. 11 game being a real crusher for OSU. Baylor won that game in Stillwater, 64-62.
#3 IOWA STATE vs. #7 TEXAS: The Longhorns took control near the end of there regular-season meeting on Feb. 15, a game that seemed like it was going in the Cyclones' favor. Instead, Texas won 55-52.
"I'm sure they'll remember that game and come out ready to play," Texas coach Gail Goestenkors said of the Cyclones. "We have to show the fire and desire that we showed at the end of that game."
With the pre-determined sites for the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament, there's always the danger that a school will be awarded a bid and then not make the field. That's what has happened to Texas Tech this season. The Raiders end the year at 16-15, but United Spirit Arena will still be in use next week as one of the 16 sites.
"I'll be the first one there in the stands to support it," Texas Tech coach Kristy Curry said. "I know the folks will step up. The right thing to do is for everybody to come out and support the event, and hopefully we will."
Tech had to deal with this back in 1998, when the team still played at Municipal Coliseum, and was the host of a regional that Tech didn't make because it lost to Notre Dame in the second round.
Taylor Hardeman said the Cowgirls had a good week of practice, after the difficulties of their last game when Andrea Riley was suspended and OSU lost to Nebraska.
Despite such a tough start Thursday, with OSU trailing 28-17, the Cowgirls heard the sound of their fans in the crowd at the Cox Center cheering. And that perked them up, because they knew that it meant that OSU's men's team had defeated OU at the Ford Center. Hardeman said that really did affect the Cowgirls and started their second-half comeback.
"I looked at Shaunte and we were like, 'We are not going to lose this game,' " said Hardeman who finished with 12 points.
Shaunte Smith had a huge game with 17 points and 14 rebounds, and coach Kurt Budke also complimented Riley for how she played in the second half.
"Andrea Riley worked hard to get the ball to her teammates tonight, and they rewarded her," Budke said.
Oklahoma State advances, 63-57, after having split with Texas Tech during the regular season. Kim Mulkey is still here watching, and her Baylor team will take on OSU tomorrow. Texas Tech's Red Raider just crossed paths with OSU's Pistol Pete. Pete just got the last shot in.
Body language is pretty bleak on the Texas Tech bench - understandable with the Cowgirls up by eight with under a minute left. Unless OSU channels Missouri, the Cowgirls can't lose this.
Somebody earlier suggested that Jordan Murphree seems to have been at Tech forever. But that's not true - she's only a junior. I came to the conclusion that she looks like Alesha Robertson in a general sort of way, and so they've melded into the same person in some minds.
There was just a "wants it more" moment - Shyvon Spears missed a shot, fought for the rebound and got her own putback- and was fouled. After that, the Raiders took several shots at the basket and couldn't get any to fall. With 1:18 left, the Cowgirls are up by seven.
Texas Tech used to be one of the more robust traveling fan parties for women's basketball, but this season's 16-14 record has further taken a toll on the support group. This is the kind of game that could further put a dent in that. But there's still time for Tech, which now trails by four.
Andrea Riley just drove baseline and pulled up for a jumper - the kind of shot the Cowgirls were missing in the first half but are making now.
Dominic Seals has struggled tonight from the field, going just 2 of 10. Amazing how quickly confidence can transfer from one team to the other so completely.
This is the kind of game that Texas Tech fans have been grumbling about all year - where their team is going along and then seems to hit turbulence offensive they can't solve.
The OSU folks were celebrating in here earlier because of the Cowboys' win across the street over Oklahoma. Then orange people came from there to join the crowd here to try to rally the Cowgirls.
OK the Taylor Hardeman show is now on. While I was typing in the Ernie Williams' saga, OSU came back and it's now 33-32. She's made four 3-pointers in the second half, after going 0 for 3 from the field in the first half.
OK, now that it's halfime, here's the Earnesia Williams story: The Texas senior totaled her car in a crash Wednesday, was helped out by two good Samaritans who saw it happened. She was not seriously hurt and had 15 points and 11 rebounds in the Longhorns' improbable comeback win over Missouri.
Williams, who lost control on a rainy road in Austin early in the morning while going to her internship, described it like this: "My car hydroplaned into the other lane and back into my lane, and I hit a rock wall and (my car) flipped a couple of times.
"I walked out ...two guys helped me out. I walked out with only a scratch on my hand. I'm glad to be here and alive. I've had two ACL tears and I thought that was life-threatening, but I was in something way deeper than that."
Williams was checked out and evaluated as not seriously injured, although she was shaken up and sore. Coach Gail Goestenkors said Williams did not practice yesterday and she wasn't sure she'd be available today.
"She was stiff, especially, her neck," GG said. "But she went to our shoot-around and she looked good. She is a spiritual young lady, and she said it's put things into perspective for her."
Taylor Hardeman continues to struggle with her shot for OSU. This game really could be "worse" for the Cowgirls than the score is at halftime: TT 28, OSU 17. Well ... not much worse.
Back to the action here, Texas Tech went into a zone defense with the score 17-11. It has worked well; TT up now 28-13.
Missy Decker Heidrick is back over near my seat and I'm asking her about what it's like to play to play four games in a row to try to win the Big 12 tournament. Missy's K-State team attempted to do that as the No. 5 seed in 1997, the first year of the tournament, but then ended up falling to Colorado.
"It's hard, and so much depends on what those games are like before the final," Missy said. "I played three 40-minute games heading into the final. So much of it is a way to get a little bit of rest during those previous games, get some bench help. This is the time of year where depth is so critical. By the final, you're gutting it out because of adrenaline. And now, you're looking at it here with no break - playing four games in a row. At least they used to have that off day."
Missy said since there's little time to prepare, "You use the shoot-around to come up with various specific strategies for that opponent. At least you've seen all these opponents, some of them twice. When we played KU (in the 1997 semifinals), we changed defensive strategies that day, different than what we'd done the first two times we played them."
Well, the Cowgirls decided to wake up and now this is a game again. The Raiders are up 17-11. But, I swear, everybody here except OSU and TT fans are still buzzing about the last game.
Sorry for the late start ... an amazing story about Earnesia Williams of Texas surviving a car crash yesterday - with barely a scratch - to tell in just a bit. As for Game 4, the Raiders have pretty much stomped on the Cowgirls early on. They are up 13-0, but it feels like more.
----GAME 4 - TEXAS TECH vs. OKLAHOMA STATE----
OK, while we try to figure out how that game we just saw just happened, we'll take a break and be back soon for the fourth game of the day- Oklahoma State vs. Texas Tech.
Gotta feel bad for Alyssa Hollins, losing her last game in such a fashion. Texas 62, Missouri 59. Hard to even explain what we just saw here. Hollins finishes with a team-high 16 points. Texas was led by 16 points by Kathleen Nash.
Brittany Raven just drove the basket and scored. Texas by 2. The Tigers have to feel like they just got hit by a truck when they thought they were cruising to the finish line.
Just like that, the Longhorns' defense has made the Tigers wilt. I feel like I've seen this too many times from Missouri. Texas has just scored seven points in a blink of an eye, has the ball back and has tied the game 59-59.
Texas certainly has put up a rather unpleasant-looking collection of backboard-rattling bricks and rim-hitters that have fallen short tonight. The Longhorns have made just 15 shots from the field. But one of them, a layup after a steal, just resulted in a chance at a three-point play for Texas, which trails by three.
OK, we're in the "can-you-do-it?" zone for the Tigers, who lead Texas 57-52 with 5 minutes left. Missouri has "won" some 38- and even 39-minute games against ranked opponents in the past few years ... but those didn't end up as real 40-minute wins. In other words, the Tigers have to prove they can close this one out, like they did last year against Oklahoma.
Remember how Texas' Carla Cortijo was set to transfer to St. John's before coach Gail Goestenkors took over the Longhorns' program in 2007. You wonder what the Horns would have looked like without her the past two years, if Cortijo hadn't decided to stay.
Jessra Johnson has struggled from the field today (4 of 14 so far) but she just hit a 3-pointer. That was her 24th from long range this season. Johnson is a 6-1 junior who at times can really make a big impact on games with her inside-out scoring ability. We're still tied, and the longer Missouri hangs around ...
Marissa Scott of Missouri just tried to pass me the ball on press row. Actually, I don't think she meant to do that. Yes, I did graduate from Missouri, but in no way shape or form would the Tigers ever want me playing basketball for them.
Bekah Mills, a redshirt freshman guard for Missouri, is from Towanda, Kan. Does that make anyone else think of "Fried Green Tomatoes?" TAWANDA!!!!!!
The Horns have started to assert themselves again, and now the game is tied 38-38. Like I said, who knows just what to expect from Texas? I'm sure it's part of what's driven coach Gail Goestenkors a little nuts about this group. She thought it would be a more consistent team.
Back again, and guess who I spotted at the T-shirt stand upstairs at the Cox Center during halftime? President Obama! Just kidding. It was Kim Mulkey, and I do bet you can guess which school's T-shirts she was buying.
Mizzou's Christina Flores missed her second "you CAN'T miss that" layup just before, resulting in much groaning from the black and gold crew. Still, the Tigers are up 31-24 at the break in their quest for just their second win ever against Texas. We'll take a little break and be back for the second half.
Earnesia Williams seems to have woken up for Texas, but Hollins is not dozing, either, for Missouri. I'm sitting by the Mizzou radio crew, and they're saying, "Alyssa Hollins is realizing this is about it." Indeed, the senior is at the very end of her career and wants to prolong it if she can.
Don't look now, but Missouri is leading Texas 29-19, and the Longhorns are needing halftime to regoup. There's 1:47 left before the break.
The Baylor team just walked in to watch Texas vs. Missouri. The players are here, anyway. When other teams come in during league tournaments during games they're not playing in, I always wonder how much attention they are really paying to what's going on. Baylor doesn't have Texas or Missouri next, by the way. Baylor plays the winner of Texas Tech vs. Oklahoma State.
The Tigers have battled back to tie the game 13-13. Missouri doesn't lack talent, and sometimes it's hard to figure out how they haven't won more games. Remember last year, the Tigers upset Oklahoma on the first day of the Big 12 tournament.
Texas' Erika Arriaran just nailed a shot, and it's interesting to look at how she "handled" her ACL injury as opposed to how others have done it. She tore her ACL in January 2007 and attempted to come back for the 2007-2008 season. But once she started practicing, she just didn't fell confident and decided to redshirt instead. So that meant she was away from playing for a season and a half, but she said she is glad she didn't force herself to play last yea when when she really didn't feel it was best.
One of the "Texas Tigers" - there are three kids from the Lone Star State on the MU squad - just hit a 3-pointer: Alyssa Hollins, a senior guard. She's MU's all-time leader from behind the arc.
Missouri hasn't had much luck against the Longhorns, ever. Texas leads the series 16-1. A long, long time ago - 1986 - Missouri was one of the victims on the Longhorns' path to an undefeated season and the national championship. Texas beat Missouri in the NCAA tournament that year.
Texas has been a hard team to figure out this season during league play. Starting on Feb. 1, the Horns won five games in a row and appeared to be clicking. But since then, they've lost five of six. Their only win in that stretch was ... Missouri.
I just saw a very interested spectator with a lot on his mind walk in to the Cox Center: Mike Anderson. His daughter, Yvonne, is playing for Texas right now, and his Missouri men's team plays Texas Tech later tonight across the street at the Ford Center. Mike Anderson is in the weird position of "rooting" against the school he works for. But blood is thicker than a paycheck. We trust Mizzou fans understand.
---THIRD GAME: TEXAS VS. MIZZOU---
If you have any questions about the Big 12 tournament, e-mail me at email@example.com and I'll try to answer them on this blog in as timely a manner as I can without spilling any soda.
McCray ended up with 22 points and seven rebounds. For Nebraska, Cory Montgomery had 20 points and nine rebounds. Next up for KU is Oklahoma tomorrow at 11 a.m. We'll take a break now for interviews and be back for Game 3.
Danielle McCray misses another free throw - rare for her - and then Sade Morris blocked the Huskers' 3-point attempt. KU wins 61-56. Congratuations to Sade Morris for putting on one of the best "big-heart" performances I've ever seen at this tournament. Her final numbers: 12 of 19 for 24 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Unfortunately for Nebraska, she made too many big plays - and made them at crucial times.
KU up by five thanks to pretty drive and dish by ... guess who? Sade Morris. She fed Boogaard a perfect pass inside.
Nebraska isn't getting the looks it was getting earlier in this game, and you have to say KU's defense knuckled down by keeping the Huskers from penetrating the way they had been.
Wow, just in terms of effort, it would be hard for any kid to be giving any more than Sade Morris is giving in this game. Another steal and layup. She's been terrific.
The Huskers have really spread around the task of guarding McCray, which is one of the Big 12's tougher assignments. She has become a good enough player off the dribble that I'm not sure there's much of anything she doesn't do well offensively.
Whoa, McCray is heating up. She just nailed another three-pointer.
As if the Huskers were listening to me - which I assure you they don't need to _ they kept attacking and are back up 52-48. The Jayhawks could really use a boost from center Krysten Boogaard, who has just two points and had taken only two shots from the field.
Well, we're getting to crunch time, folks. Aisha Sutherland, a promising rookie for KU to keep an eye on in the future, just scored on transition, followed by a silky-smooth three-pointer by Danielle McCray. The game is tied at 48, and this is where Nebraska has to not stop being aggressive.
Incidentally, Sade Morris - yes, named after the singer - probably has the best "voice" in Big 12 women's basketball. Not necessarily singing voice; I actually don't know if she can sing. I mean her "talking" voice - it's just very melodious and pleasant. She seems like someone who should do her own radio show just so people can mellow out listening to her.
Every time I watch Nebraska, I think of what a pest Connie Yori must have been as a defender when she played at Creighton. You can just see that intensity in her as a coach.
Sade Morris, playing in her home state of Oklahoma, is having the best game this afternoon for KU. She just made an steal that was exactly like a cornerback wedging in front of a receiver and took it in for a layup. Nebraska still up 45-39.
Danielle McCray just had a 3-point play that maybe broke the ice for her and the Jayhawks.
Incidentally, my nightmare almost happened ... but not quite. Vonnie Turner slammed into the press row table and sent a soda flying (among other things) and some of the liquid seemed to come dangerously close to someone's laptop. My laptop, which is basically like a member of my immediate family, was not harmed. But it was still frightening. I'd much rather get clobbered by Vonnie Turner and have several sodas dumped on me than have anything happen to my laptop.
Well, we're back for the second half and the Huskers are starting to put a little separation, as they say, between themselves and the Jayhawks. KU really needs to start establishing something on offense. Hasn't happened in the first 3 minutes.
Expect to see some adjustments from Kansas in the second half ... the Jayhawks trailed Nebraska 31-28 on Feb. 28 in Lawrence, but really took over the game in the second half. they outscored the Huskers 42-26. Taking a little break and we'll be back for the second half.
Brenda Van Lengen, a former coach and a noted hoops brain, offers this instant analysis of KU-Nebraska, with the Huskers up 32-28 at the break: "I think in the first half, Nebraska has been the more aggressive team. They've played very solid defense, especially on Danielle McCray. And they've been attacking the paint, either by dribble-drive by Vonnie Turner or pounding it inside to Cory Montgomery. That's what it takes in a tournament situation like this: You have to be aggressive. I think Connie Yori deserves credit this season after losing Kelsey Griffin and Nikki Bober. They had to redefine themselves. Connie has stayed pretty positive with the kids through tough times. They won five of their last seven games. Connie has been maligned for Nebraska's play in the past in February play, but this has been a good February in terms of how it finished."
OK! I have a question! Josh Prins, a poster from the HoopScoop site who is very up on all things Big 12, asks, "Did K-State coach in the postgame why Lehning (and the other starters) were in the game so late?" The answer is no, but we didn't ask, either. In 13 years of following the Wildcats, I have to say I don't bother asking that one anymore. Coach Patterson has has always played her starters a lot even when up in games.
Vonnie Turner of Nebraska seems to be getting to the rim with alarming ease from the Jayhawks' perspective. Someone is going to have to take responsibility for stopping the ball for KU.
Kansas' Danielle McCray came into this game on fire for her past five games, in which she had averaged 26.8 points. But so far, McCray has not been her normal self in this game. She is 2 of 7 from the field. And just got stripped.
Nebraska is 15-14, and it's not been the type of season the Huskers were expecting. Can one player make that much difference? It can when that player is the centerpiece of your team, as Griffin was. In her absence, junior Cory Montgomery has had to carry the Huskers' inside game, which should help when the two are paired together again next year.
Have to mention that Nebraska's injured star, Kelsey Griffin, is wearing a slightly distracting shirt on the bench that, um, sparkles. It's sparkling silver is what I mean. When you glance in the direction of the bench, it's the first thing you see. Griffin is out after injuring her ankle in a pickup game on Aug. 28.
Kansas is leading 12-9 in a game that's more competitive, you might say, than the previous one. The Jayhawks are one of those teams you think needed to click maybe just a week or two earlier than they did in terms of getting an at-large NCAA bid, or at least being considered for it.
Just visited with Missy Decker Heidrick, who does radio commentary for Kansas State. She's a former Wildcat, and actually played in the first Big 12 championship game. In 1997, when the Wildcats faced Colorado after upsetting Kansas in the semifinals. Missy doesn't look a day older than she in 1997, either.
OK, we're back again for the day's second game, with the Huskers and Jayhawks meeting for a third time this season. Kansas fans are still trying to shake off the shock that their men's team just lost across the street at the Ford Center to Baylor.
-----KANSAS VS. NEBRASKA-----
Colorado's season ends at 11-18, unless the WNIT is looking for some teams that are seven games under .500. The Buffs can start looking toward next season. The Wildcats win 68-51, led by Sweat's 19 and Gipson's 14. Next up for K-State is Texas A&M, which has been playing very good basketball of late. A&M put the hurt on the Wildcats 71-45 in Manhattan, Kan. on March 1, but Lehning was still definitely feeling the effects of mono in that game. Will her back at what percentage she is now make enough difference for this to be a much closer game? We'll see. Off to the interview room ... check back in for the start of the upcoming KU-Nebraska game.
Ashley Sweat's day is done with 19 points on 7 of 10 shooting. Shalee Lehning, still in the game for whatever reason, just had a nifty layup. Now Shalee takes a seat.
All starters back in for Kansas State, which has an 18-point lead with just over 3 minutes left. Make it a 15-point lead.
I asked Brenda V which team she thought had improved the most during the course of the season. This sort of limits the answers to teams that weren't doing so well earlier in the year, because the good teams don't have as much room to improve. She said Nebraska and Kansas, which I would agree with. And _ tah-dah! _ they will be up next after the Buffs go quietly into the night ... or afternoon, as the case may be.
Shalee Lehning has returned to the game with 4 minutes left. Not sure why.
If you have any questions specifically about the Big 12 tournament, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll try to answer them on this blog. Don't ask me any John Wayne trivia questions, though.
Broadcaster Brenda Van Lengen is in the house. She is doing Friday's night games and then will be the sideline reporter for the semifinals.
Shalee Lehning has battled mono - for how long, nobody is exactly sure - and so there's been concern about how well she can hold up playing back-to-back (and maybe more) games. But she just chased down a ball from almost halfcourt and flung it back in bounds to her teammate Marlies Gipson. Big cheers from the K-State contingent for the effort. She seems to be feeling better - which her triple-double on Saturday against the Buffs also indicated
Kansas State seems to effectively be holding the Buffs at arm's length, giving us a chance to preview the next game: Kansas vs. Nebraska. Those two split during the regular season, with each winning on its home floor. That game should be more of a battle than this one has been.
Kara Richards was just at the free-throw line, so maybe we can milk her John Wayne affinity one more time ... my favorite movie from the Duke is "The Searchers." It is also the only JW movie I've seen start to finish. Kara's favorite is "The Cowboys." ... BTW, Chip the mascot and some of the cheerleaders are play-wrestling. Yeah, they are kind of looking for something to do during this game.
Kari Kincaid now has a team-best 54 three-pointers this season (four so far today) for the Wildcats. For K-State, Kincaid has been the next-best thing to having Laurie Koehn be eligible for eight years.
Kara Richards picked up her third foul at the end of the first half, so she had to be careful about not fouling out of what appears to be her final college game. Brittany Spears is trying to give the Buffs a little life. Meanwhile, Kari Kincaid just moved into double figures for the Wildcats with a 3-pointer.
START OF SECOND HALF
Kelsey Nelson hit a shot at the halftime buzzer (as if the Wildcats really needed that, what else can go wrong for CU?) and gave K-State a 36-17 lead entering the break. Not sure what Colorado can do to change momentum in this game, unless the Buffs petition to turn this into the Big 12 skiing championships at halftime. CU rules in skiing. Barring that ... uh.. . still, come back soon and we'll journey through the second half.
Colorado really has been hurt by not having Whitney Houston this season. She tore her ACL on Sept. 24, and K-Mac said it's been one of her biggest issue this season - the Buffs not having a really comfortable leader on the court.
I do want to give a shout-out to Chip, the CU mascot, who came over right before the game and said hello. At least I think he was saying hello. You know mascots don't talk. I assume the wave was a friendly gesture. The Colorado band, which hasn't had a whole lot to cheer in a 3-13 season, is at least trying to stay involved.
Not a lot going right so far for Colorado, which you might deduce from the 31-15 score. Buffs just had a shot-clock violation on their end and then watched a rebound hit the floor (and soon find its way into Lehning's hands) on the other end.
The McPherson Connection is clicking for the Wildcats _ Ashley Sweat has 11 points and her fellow former Bullpup, Marlies Gipson, has 10 points.
Dani Zanotti is in for Kansas State, and this is one of the shorter trips for her mom, who comes to practically every game. The Zanottis live in the greater OKC area, and Dani went to Mustang High not that far from here. Mustang High's mascot is not the Mustangs, by the way. It's the Broncos.
OK, Shalee Lehning is coming back in. Figured it couldn't last long.
Coach Deb Patterson has already gone to her bench, subbing out all her starters. Let's see how long she can stand to do that.
This is kind of how it's going for the Buffs: They got a steal ... then lost the ball out of bounds. Longtime CU coach Ceal Barry, now an administrator at the school, is in the house and I would imagine the Buffs' defense so far is giving her indigestion. So you can imagine what it's doing to coach Kathy McConnell-Miller. You know, I didn't realize the "Boulder Daily Camera" had taken to just referring to her as as "K-Mac" in headlines. Makes sense.
We don't exactly appear to be on track for the first upset of the day, as the Wildcats are up 22-8 and appear to be getting the look at the basket they want every possession.
K-State already has nine points from Ashley Sweat, who says that it's impossible for her to hear "Thriller" too much. Told you she was a big Jacko fan. If you want to feel old, realize Sweat was born four years AFTER "Thriller" was released.
Richards just scored again, and you know, she's a story in perseverance. She had to sit out what would have been her sophomore season, 2005-2006, with a foot injury, which really kept her from building on any momentum she had coming off her rookie year. No longer a second option with Jackie McFarland graduated, Richards has had her best season as a senior, averaging 13.2 points and 7.3 rebounds.
Kansas State has defeated Colorado twice this season, the most recent meeting being ... very recent. The teams met Saturday in Boulder, and the Wildcats won 71-61. It's been pretty lean times in Boulder in recent years, with the Buffs' last NCAA tournament appearance coming in 2004. The big highlight for CU, actually, was beating K-State when the Wildcats visited on Feb. 23, 2008.
Meanwhile, Michael Jackson fan Ashley Sweat wanted to be "startin' somethin' " for the Wildcats, and she did, with a couple of free throws. Just warming up here, folks. I admit to knowing a lot more about Michael Jackson's music than John Wayne movies. Not big on westerns.
Ok, welcome to Oklahoma City, where it's snowing (kind of snowing) as the Big 12 women's tournament gets under way with No. 5 seed Kansas State meeting No. 12 Colorado. The Buffs' Kara Richards, showing "True Grit" just scored the first basket of the 2009 tournament. Yes, she's a big John Wayne fan.
THURSDAY, TIPOFF FOR GAME 1 APPROACHING