Baylor's impact on women's basketball during the Brittney Griner Era extends to national television and one of the top ESPN franchises. The Lady Bears will make their first non-conference Big Monday appearance when they travel to Hartford, Conn., to face Connecticut.
Give the folks at the World Wide Leader credit for foresight. The game is part of the network's Rivalry Week and while Baylor-UConn is not at the top of the list when rivals come to mind, the match up features the sports' most recognized program and the game's most iconic player.
And, by the way, Baylor comes into the game ranked No. 1 and Connecticut is ranked No. 3. Both teams are 24-1. The Lady Bears' only loss came to Stanford (with junior point guard Odyssey Sims sidelined for most of the game). The Huskies' only loss came to Notre Dame - one of the four top 10 teams Baylor has defeated.
Baylor extended its nation-leading home winning streak to 54 games, its Big 12 regular-season streak to 36 and its season winning streak to 22 with a 78-45 victory over TCU Saturday. The Lady Bears also clinched a share of the Big 12 regular-season title.
"I don't think there were any high-fives or jubilation," Baylor dy Bears coach Kim Mulkey said. "They want to win it outright."
That happened with Sunday's results. Iowa State and Texas Tech are tied for second-place with 9-5 records. With four Big 12 games remaining, Baylor can't be caught. The Lady Bears have won three consecutive regular-season titles.
By dominating the Horned Frogs from the opening tip, Mulkey was able to have each player on the roster played at least eight minutes.
"To get out of here with a 30-something point victory and rest everybody and yet gain valuable experience with those younger players, it makes us better down the road," Mulkey said. "Was it a game plan to do it because we have a quick turnaround with Connecticut? I guess it's a game plan in every game, but not every game allows you to do it."
Connecticut also played Saturday but did not win with similar ease. The Huskies trailed by 10 early before rallying for a 65-45 victory at Rutgers. UConn coach Geno Auriemma is not pleased that his team had a road game and then one day of travel before facing the defending national champs.
"The Big East thinks we are Superman," he said. "We can play at Rutgers on Saturday and have Baylor on Monday because we are just better than everybody else and we can handle that. I remember Notre Dame's game at Providence before they were at Tennessee, so we are just held to a higher standard than everybody else.
"We just have to do what we have to do. (Rutgers) is not an easy place to play under any circumstances and especially when you have a Saturday/Monday like we have and it does take a lot out of you."
Standings A Jumbled Puzzle
After Texas Tech closed out the weekend with its 69-62 victory over Texas, the Big 12 standings from second through seventh was a crowded, hot mess.
Iowa State and Texas Tech are each 9-5 and tied for second place behind Baylor, which has clinched the regular-season title. Oklahoma is alone in fourth place at 8-5. Kansas and Oklahoma State are tied for fifth place with 7-6 records. West Virginia is in seventh place at 7-7.
"It's the parity," Lady Raiders coach Kristy Curry said. "We're the No. 1 RPI league in the country so it's phenomenal conference from top to bottom. Things have fallen into place but we're just worried about the next game. But believe me, we want to put an exclamation point on this season."
The Week That Was
The half dozen teams that occupy second through seventh place are clawing and scratching as they try to climb the standings ladder. Here's what happened to each team over the past week.
Iowa State: Posted an impressive 72-68 victory at Oklahoma but couldn't hold serve at home and lost to West Virginia, 68-66 Sunday. But, thanks to the Sooners losing twice, the Cyclones still moved up to second place.
Kansas: The Jayhawks rallied from 23 down to win at TCU 76-75 and then controlled the entire 40 minutes in an 81-71 victory over Oklahoma Sunday. A loss at TCU might have ended KU's NCAA hopes. Winning that game and beating Oklahoma might have put the Jayhawks on the right side of the bubble. Senior Monica Engelman had a career-high 26 vs. TCU and scored 21 against OU. Carolyn Davis had 24 and 10 against Oklahoma, her third consecutive double double.
Oklahoma: Lost at home to Iowa State 72-68 and at Kansas 81-71. The Sooners started the week alone in second place and now find themselves alone in fourth. Oklahoma lost back-to-back games for the first time this season.
Oklahoma State: Like Kansas, the Cowgirls had a successful week. They traveled to Morgantown and defeated West Virginia 64-54 as Brittney Martin scored a career high 21. Saturday, Oklahoma State followed up the men's Bedlam victory by thrashing Kansas State 80-45 as Toni Young had 23 points and 18 rebounds. Oklahoma State had lost at Kansas State, 76-70 in overtime on Jan. 23.
Texas Tech: The Lady Raiders lost at Baylor 89-47 Tuesday night but the good news is that the Lady Raiders are finished with the defending national champions (unless they meet up in the Phillips 66 Big 12 Women's Championship). All five of Texas Tech's Big 12 losses have come to teams in the top half of the standings. The Lady Raiders took care of business Sunday, winning at home against Texas and moving into a tie for second place.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers didn't defend their home court and lost to Oklahoma State. Then, in an outcome that illustrates the wackiness of the Big 12, West Virginia won at Iowa State Sunday.
What's all this stuff about the standings mean? First, there could be some wicked tiebreakers needed to unravel the seeds No. 2 through No. 7 for the Big 12 Championship. Second, there's a good chance that the Big 12 will place seven teams in the NCAA Tournament bracket. The team that is the seventh seed, though, figures to go into selection Monday residing in Bubble Land.
The top six teams in the Big 12 Championship receive first-round byes. Two games will be played on the Championship's first day with No. 7 vs. No. 10 and No. 8 vs. No. 9. Typically, teams want to avoid playing in those opening round games because it means winning four games to capture the title.
However, if the No. 7 seed is on the bubble, it could actually benefit. Playing and winning an extra game might help the NCAA resume. And, the winner of the 7 vs. 10 game plays the No. 2 seed in the quarterfinals. That means not facing Baylor, which has clinched the No. 1 seed.
* West Virginia made 68 percent of its shots in the second half of its victory at Iowa State. The Mountaineers shot 52 percent for the game, their best shooting effort in Big 12 play. WVU is 3-0 this season when making at least half its shots.
* Two players joined the 1,000-point club Sunday. Texas Tech's Chynna Brown has scored 1,001 points in her career. Iowa State's Hallie Christofferson equaled a career-high with 27 points and became the 25th Cyclone to score at least 1,000 points in a career.
* Oklahoma's Nicole Griffin has scored in double figures in the last six games. The junior center is averaging 14.7 points during that span.
* Texas Tech's win over Texas on Sunday completed a season sweep of the Longhorns for the first time since 2006. It is only the fifth time in school history that Tech completed a season sweep of the Longhorns (1995, 1998, 2000, 2006). Texas became the third team Tech has swept this season (West Virginia, TCU). It is the first time Tech has swept three teams in one season since 2004-05 (Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M).