By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
DALLAS - Iowa State was the first team to complete its home-and-home schedule this season. Now the Cyclones will be the last Big 12 team to face the Lady Bears and Brittney Griner.
The final of the Phillips 66 Big 12 Women's Basketball Championship will match the top two seeds - Baylor and Iowa State - at 7 p.m. at the American Airlines Center. The Lady Bears (31-1) have won 29 consecutive games and 48 consecutive games against Big 12 opponents. They'll try to become the first Big 12 team to win three consecutive post-season titles.
"Brittney is the most unique player - and I've been doing this a long time - but she's the most unique player I've ever seen," Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly said. "We'll be certainly glad that (Monday) night is the last time we coach against her."
Iowa State has been impressive in winning twice to reach the final. Baylor tromped Kansas State, 80-47, in the quarterfinal but in Sunday's semifinal was forced to win a game in the final minute for the first time this season. The Lady Bears committed 24 turnovers but escaped with a 77-69 victory over No. 5 seed Oklahoma State.
"We needed a game like this," Baylor point guard Odyssey Sims said. "We've been beating teams by 30-plus. We've been getting bored out there sometimes. Having a close game like this wakes us up. Makes us realize that just because we're the No. 1 team doesn't mean we can't be beat. We handled it not as well as we should have, but we'll clean it up and get it together."
Iowa State has won eight of its last 10 with the two losses by a combined five points. And over the last five games, three players are averaging at least 17 points per game - Chelsea Poppens (17.4), Hallie Christofferson (17.4) and Anna Prins (17). Prins, a 6-7 senior, scored a career-high 32 in the Cyclones' semifinal victory.
"I think we're excited to have another opportunity to play Baylor," Prins said. "We'll just prepare for Baylor as best we can. It's the championship game. Just go play."
Before the victory over Oklahoma State, the closest outcome for Baylor against a Big 12 team came on Jan. 23 when the Lady Bears won at Iowa State, 66-51. That's when Fennelly asked his team to strive for a third meeting.
"We challenged our players - let's play them in the Big 12 championship game," he said. "To our team's credit, the way they've done things, (Monday) night we get to be on the biggest stage in the country, in the best league in the country, against the best team in the country. That's a pretty cool day."