Unbeaten Baylor headlines women's Big 12 tourney

BY foxsports • March 6, 2012

Baylor coach Kim Mulkey scoffed at the very notion.

The top-ranked Lady Bears carry an unblemished record into the Big 12 tournament this week, and she was asked whether a loss might improve their chances of winning the national championship by alleviating some of the pressure that comes with a quest for perfection.

''I don't know that winning or losing in Kansas City is going to affect us in any way,'' Mulkey responded. ''We understand how difficult it will be in Kansas City, and we understand how difficult it will be to win six to win it all in the NCAA.

''We'll come with the intention of winning one at a time, and if you win three you win another championship, cut down the nets and move to the next part of your season.''

Sounds simple in theory.

Getting there could be a bigger challenge.

While the Big 12 isn't nearly as top heavy as it has been in recent years - the Bears have won their games by an average of nearly 28 points - it may be as deep as ever.

Eighth-seeded Texas and No. 9 seed Texas Tech open the tournament Wednesday night, before No. 7 seed Oklahoma State faces 10th-seeded Missouri.

The Lady Bears and second-seeded Oklahoma have byes into the quarterfinals and await the winners of the opening games. Fourth-seed Iowa State and No. 5 seed Kansas State open the Thursday session, while No. 3 seed Texas A&M and sixth-seeded Kansas meet in the nightcap.

Except for Missouri, everyone harbors hopes of an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.

''All other conference tournaments are over - we're the last one playing - and we have a lot of folks that are going to impact the bracket in a lot of ways,'' said Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale, whose team comes into the tournament 19-11 overall.

''The implications for what could happen there is just huge.''

The defending national champion Aggies (20-9) appear to be NCAA tournament locks, but things are wide open after the first three. Iowa State (18-11), Kansas State (18-12), Kansas (19-11), Texas (18-12), Oklahoma State (16-11) and Texas Tech (18-12) all boast impressive resumes.

None of them has the same compelling backstory as Oklahoma State.

Coach Kurt Budke and assistant coach Miranda Serna were headed for Little Rock, Ark., on a recruiting trip in November when their plane went down in a wooded area. Both of them died along with the pilots, and the cause of the crash is still unclear.

The Cowgirls, behind star newcomer Liz Donohoe, managed to overcome the grief and play their way into position to reach the postseason behind coach Jim Littell.

''Our players have started to practice better,'' Littell said earlier this week. ''We probably played our best basketball the last three or four games.''

If the Cowgirls are sentimental favorites, Baylor is the odds-on favorite.

Only three times have the Lady Bears been held to a single-digit victory by a Big 12 foe - Texas Tech did it twice, Texas A&M the other time. And the only other times it's happened all year were against No. 9 Tennessee and fourth-ranked Connecticut.

With three wins in the Big 12 tournament next week, and then the six that would be needed in the NCAA tournament for a title, Baylor could reach 40 wins.

''It's impossible to keep them from scoring. They have too many weapons,'' Coale said. ''They're as talented defensively as any team in the country. They have great speed and athleticism, and they play really hard.''

Baylor has won three postseason conference titles, though its lone NCAA title came in 2005. The Lady Bears and star forward Brittney Griner lost to Texas A&M in the regional final last year.

They won't be the first team attempting to achieve perfection.

Texas accomplished the feat in 1986, and UConn matched it in 1995. Tennessee went 39-0 and won the championship in 1998, before the Huskies rattled off perfect seasons in 2002, 2009 and '10.

There have been plenty of failed attempts at perfect seasons, too.

Louisiana Tech lost in the Final Four in 1990, Vermont fell in the first round in 1992 and '93, and Liberty in the first round in 1998. UConn lost in the regional finals in 1997.

''I don't know of anything else we can do. We're undefeated,'' Mulkey said. ''That doesn't mean we've played well every game. That doesn't mean we've had great practice every day. But we've never lost focus on our job and what we're trying to do.''