Baylor goes for 3rd straight Big 12 tourney title
The Big 12 women's tournament could easily turn out to be just like the regular season, determining who finishes as the runner-up to defending national champion Baylor.
Brittney Griner and the top-ranked Lady Bears (29-1, 18-0 Big 12) have won a record 46 consecutive games in the league by an average margin of nearly 25 points. They are the only team to twice go through the Big 12 regular-season schedule without a loss, and swept through the last two conference tournaments.
''We have a goal of winning another trophy, and another title,'' coach Kim Mulkey said. ''You focus on the three days, and then when that's done, you'll get a few days off and head to the most important part of your season.''
That would be the NCAA tournament, which for the Lady Bears will begin at home, where they have won 55 in a row.
''Postseason, it's here ... It's time to bring it,'' said Griner, the 6-foot-8 two-time All-American and one of five Baylor seniors.
For the first time, the Big 12 women's tournament will be played in a different town than the men. The men are in Kansas City and the women start Friday night at the American Airlines Center in Dallas.
Texas (12-17, 5-13) and Kansas State (14-16, 5-13) play the opener, with the winner advancing to play Baylor. Kansas (17-12, 8-10) plays league newcomer TCU (9-20, 2-16) in the other game the opening night.
Even though the Big 12 has the nation's highest RPI, five 20-win teams and a 91-22 record against teams from other leagues, Baylor is the conference's only Top 25 team.
''I am very surprised about that,'' Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said. ''The thing that doesn't jump out at people is the fact that there's never an easy game. ... I bet any coach you would talk to in our league would feel like a boxer in the 12th round, just staggering into the conference tournament like, `OK, let's get this over with so we can breathe again.' ... That's what the other leagues don't face.''
No. 3 seed Oklahoma (21-9, 11-7) plays Saturday night against the Big 12's other first-year team, West Virginia (17-12, 9-9). The Sooners are in the bracket on the opposite side of Baylor, along with No. 2 seed Iowa State (21-7, 12-6), which will play the Kansas-TCU winner.
Texas Tech (21-9, 11-7) and Oklahoma State (20-9, 9-9), the other teams on Baylor's side of the bracket, play Saturday morning.
The Sooners have won their last two games, the league's next-longest winning streak behind Baylor.
''Within our conference, we have a lot of good teams and when good teams beat good teams, they don't get ranked,'' said Oklahoma's Joanna McFarland, the league's top rebounder (9.9 per game). ''You can be in a bad conference and win every game, and you're going to get ranked. ... Our conference prepares us well for going out and facing teams.''
Baylor has won 27 in a row overall since a two-point loss to fourth-ranked Stanford a week into this season when All-American point guard Odyssey Sims was hurt. The Lady Bears are 3-0 against other Top 10 teams, winning by an average margin of 23 points.
Kansas State, which has lost five players to season-ending injuries, lost 90-68 on Monday night at Baylor when Griner scored a Big 12-record 50 points and had her 14th career dunk.
The Wildcats were within 63-60 before a 23-2 Baylor run, but aren't yet thinking about possibly having to face the Lady Bears again.
''A team that's depleted in terms of injuries and size like ours, we're really just all about preparation for the next game,'' K-State coach Deb Patterson said. ''Throwing pity parties or feeling down and out, I just think these young people love to compete. They're tough-minded.''
Kansas was also 8-10 in the Big 12 last season, and didn't win a game in the conference tournament before advancing to the NCAA round of 16. The Jayhawks open this week's conference tournament against TCU, whose only two league wins were against teams ranked No. 23 at the time - Oklahoma State and Iowa State.
Semifinal games are Sunday. The championship game is Monday night, a game likely to include Baylor and all their seniors, though Mulkey won't let them take that for granted.
''Their experience should tell them ... no one's just going to come out there and hand it to you,'' Mulkey said. ''You have to play well every night, particularly when people are really gunning for you because you're the No. 1 team in the country, you're the defending national champion. You're going to get everybody's best shot. I think our players have handled themselves well.''
AP Sports Writer Jeff Latzke in Oklahoma contributed to this report.