No. 1 seed top goal for Nebraska at Big 12 tourney

Protecting its perfect record isn’t Nebraska’s primary goal at
the Big 12 tournament.

Coach Connie Yori figures her third-ranked Cornhuskers (29-0)
need only one win in Kansas City, Mo., to assure themselves a No. 1
seed in the NCAA tournament. The rest of the Big 12 field is a
strong one, filled with ranked teams, and the Huskers have beaten
them all.

“The regular-season title is a great test of toughness and
consistency,” Yori said. “It was a terrific championship for us,
and we feel great about winning that. We’ll go to the Big 12
tournament and do our best and see where that takes us.”

Yori said she would rather keep her starters healthy and fresh
rather than push them hard through what, for them, would be a
three-games-in-three-days grind to win the championship.

“There is a pretty relaxed atmosphere right now,” the Big 12
coach of the year said. “I don’t think we have to go down there
and run the table to get a No. 1 seed. That’s ultimately what we’re
trying to achieve through the Big 12 tournament. I’m not on the
committee, but I know we’re in good position to make that happen.
Winning a first-round game would solidify that for us.”

The tournament opens Thursday and will include seven teams
ranked in the Top 25. All seven appear to have NCAA bids locked up,
with five of them in line for seedings of No. 4 or higher.

Judging by the regular season, picking a Big 12 tournament
winner is a tossup, Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said.

“We make a shot at the buzzer to beat (last-place) Missouri,
and we’re what, 11th or 12th in the country?” she said. “That’s
how close it’s been a number of times. Sometimes you need a good
bounce.”

The top two seeds in the Big 12 tournament, Nebraska and Iowa
State, fooled preseason prognosticators. The Huskers were picked to
finish sixth and the Cyclones seventh.

Iowa State (23-6), which tied the school record for
regular-season wins, comes into the tournament ranked No. 14 after
its best league finish since it won the Big 12 in 1999-2000.

Third-seeded Oklahoma (21-9), which has split its past four
games, is ranked 12th, has won four Big 12 postseason titles and
reached the Final Four last season. They finished the regular
season Sunday with a stunning 95-62 win over 20th-ranked Oklahoma
State, making a school-record 16 3-pointers.

Other than Nebraska, fourth-seeded and 11th-ranked Texas A&M
(22-7) is the hottest team in the league after winning six of its
last seven games. Its only loss during that stretch was by two
points to Baylor.

Texas, at No. 5, is the highest-seeded team that will play on
Thursday. The 15th-ranked Longhorns (21-9) have beaten their
opponent, Missouri (12-17), in 18 of their last 19 meetings.

Sixth-seeded and 16th-ranked Baylor (22-8) will be short-handed
when it takes on Colorado (13-16). Star center Brittney Griner will
sit out the second game of her two-game suspension for punching and
breaking the nose of Texas Tech’s Jordan Barncastle last week.
Perimeter threat Melissa Jones, battling a nagging injury to her
right leg, is day-to-day.

Other first-round games pit Texas Tech (17-13) against Kansas
State (13-17) and Oklahoma State against Kansas (15-14).

“You look at almost every team except Nebraska, and every team
has gone through winning streaks and losing streaks,” Texas coach
Gail Goestenkors said. “Some teams have played four or five or six
ranked teams in a row. It wears on the kids mentally and
physically.

“We all look pretty ragged heading into the NCAA tournament. We
wear each other out.”

Kansas coach Bonnie Henrickson said Nebraska has to be
considered the favorite because the Huskers have separated
themselves from the rest of the Big 12.

“I think they’ll probably have to beat themselves,” she said.
“Right now, as well as they’re playing, how do they do that? They
probably need to not shoot the ball well, decide not to rebound and
not guard anybody. I don’t think they’re going to do that.”