OKLAHOMA CITY — Baylor and Texas enter the Big 12 women’s basketball tournament searching for pride. But for the other eights teams that have convened at Chesapeake Arena, the stakes are much higher: The winner receives an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
No. 3-ranked Baylor and No. 7 Texas are locks to get in. The Lady Bears and Longhorns are projected as No. 2 seeds in the 64-team field and will play host to first- and second-round games.
The Longhorns open the tournament at 6 p.m. Saturday against the winner of Friday night’s Texas Tech-Iowa State game.
Texas coach Karen Aston correctly pointed out that four other conference teams — Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, West Virginia and TCU — are on the proverbial NCAA bubble. Last year WVU entered the Big 12 tournament as the No. 6 seed and promptly won three games, including the championship against Baylor, to reach the NCAAs.
Is there another West Virginia story in Oklahoma City?
Karen Aston feels good about the Longhorns (24-5, 15-3 Big 12).
“I don’t get any bad vibes about this team,” the sixth-year Longhorns coach said. “I feel like they are going to give everything they have for as long as they possibly can and that’s all you want as a coach. You want a team that’s excited about postseason play and to know that they’re going to give their best effort.”
Texas, Baylor and West Virginia limped to the finish line without key players.
Senior forward Audrey-Ann Caron-Goudreau had wrist surgery last week and Aston has no timetable for her return. “She’s day-to-day,” the coach has repeatedly said the past two weeks, but the Longhorns have marched on with a “committee” of front-court players — namely Joyner Holmes, Jordan Hosey and freshman Rellah Boothe.
No team has suffered a bigger setback than Baylor, which announced Thursday that senior forward Kristy Wallace, who has scored 50 points in two games against Texas, tore her ACL. Coach Kim Mulkey, though, has stopped short of saying Wallace is done for the year.
“We just keep playing and we keep winning and I keep watching them laugh and cry and hug each other and care for each other, and then this happened to Kristy Wallace (on Monday),” Mulkey said. “To watch five players go out there and realize we don’t have a sub and we’re going to win this basketball game and they just kept plugging away.
“When you have a team like that, it’s something that a coach will look at down the road and say that team blessed me. That team lifted each other up and lifted me up as a coach.”
Said Aston: “It’s always hard when you see someone put in four years of work — and they’re having a good year or their team is having a good year — you always hate to see anything happen that shortens their careers.”
Baylor (28-1, 18-0) is led by Big 12 player of the year Kalani Brown. The 6-7 junior post, who leads the conference with a .654 field goal percentage while scoring 19.7 points per game, is nearly a lock to earn All-America honors as well.
West Virginia (20-10, 8-10) has played the entire season without guard Tynice Martin. Last March she was the driving force that held WVU to the conference tournament and won MVP honors.
“Last year we were a 6-seed, and we’re a 6-seed here,” coach Mike Carey said. “Last year we played at 8:30 (on a Saturday), and we play at 8:30 (Saturday) this year too.”
As for the NCAA Tournament, Baylor, Texas and Oklahoma State are the only Big 12 teams in ESPN analyst Charlie Creme’s weekly bracket. He has OSU as a No. 9 seed.
Big 12 women’s tournament
Friday-Monday, Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City
Friday’s first round (FCS): Game 1, Kansas State vs. Kansas, 6 p.m.; Game 2, Iowa State vs. Texas Tech, 8:30 p.m.
Saturday’s quarterfinals (FSN): Game 3, Oklahoma vs. TCU, 11 a.m.; Game 4, Baylor vs. Game 1 winner, 1:30 p.m.; Game 5, Texas vs. Game 2 winner, 6 p.m. (105.3); Game 6, Oklahoma State vs. West Virginia, 8:30 p.m.
Sunday’s semifinals (FS1): Game 3 vs. Game 4 winners, 2 p.m.; Game 5 vs. Game 6 winners, 4:30 p.m.
Monday’s championship game: 8 p.m., FS1