2014 Big 12 Tournament Day One Wrap: Kansas advances over K-State in overtime; TCU blazes past Texas Tech in a run-away
You couldn't have asked for a more evenly balanced contest than the one that opened the 2014 Big 12 Women's Basketball Tournament Friday evening at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, as eight-seeded Kansas battled K-State, the ninth seed, to an 87-84 overtime win. The nightcap, however, was another affair, with seventh-seeded Texas Christian University separating itself early and coasting to a lopsided 75-59 victory over the No. 9 Red Raiders of Texas Tech.
Both winners harbor hopes of extending their postseasons, albeit short of winning the whole enchilada in Oklahoma City this weekend, more likely in the WNIT than at the Big Dance. Even so, both have more work to do to solidify their résumés.
Six new teams will enter the tournament Saturday, hoping not only to grab the brass ring in the Big 12 final come Monday, but also to improve their NCAA Tournament seedings later this month. Here's where things are likely to start getting exciting.
No. 8 Kansas 87, No. 9 Kansas State 84 (OT)
No. 9 Kansas State (11-19, 5-13), heavily reliant on its two double-digit scorers, needed others to step up in Friday's first round if the Wildcasts were to keep the Kansas defense from keying on high scorer Leticia Romero. That much they got, in spades, as five Wildcat players reached double-digits for the first time this season, led by Brianna Lewis, who recorded her first career double-double with 20 points and 14 rebounds, including a buzzer-beater put-back at the end of regulation to force overtime. But as it turned out, even that exceptional offensive outpouring would be enough to carry the day, as Kansas (13-17, 5-12) had also come to play. Chelsea Gardner and Cece Harper anchored the Kansas offense, cementing the largest comeback in school history, as Gardner scored a game-high 29 points, Harper added 20 and the Jayhawks got ust enough help from the rest of its starting five to grind out an 87-84 overtime win and move on to Saturday's Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals.
The Wildcats allowed two significant leads to evaporate in this, the third meeting of the season with their in-state rival. (The two teams split their regular-season series.) The first came after the Wildcats took advantage of cold shooting and turnovers by the Jayhawks, who had just four points but five turnovers during the first 13 minutes of play, to build a 30-14 lead with about 5:30 remaining in the first half. A CeCe Harper triple launched a 17-4 Kansas run to finish out the first half, cutting the K-State advantage to just three points (34-31) by intermission.
"You know at some pont they're going to make a little run at you, said Kansas State head coach Deb Patterson. "I thought we had a lot of wasted possessions during that period of time. They started to get some dribble penetration and most of their points during that time were off the dribble and at the rim."
Patterson also acknowledge her own team's defensive lapses during the Jayhawks' rally. "We got a little caught up on not defending the high on-ball screens well."
The second half was a back-and-forth affair, with Kansas State getting the edge in rebounds (the Wildcats finished with a 44-29 edge on the boards, 22 of their rebounds coming off the offensive glass, but squandered the opportunity with just 12 second-chance points on the night), while Kansas turned more opportunistic with points off turnovers (26 of them, to K-State's 11). The Jayhawks also dominated the paint, amassing a 54-30 edge in points in the paint by the time the final buzzer sounded.
On the defensive side of the ball, Romero got her points (15 of them, to go with nine assists) but the Jayhawks' defense rendered her inefficient. The freshman guard finished the game with 15 points and nine assists, but converted only 4 of 21 shots (19 percent) from the field.
The result was a volley of clutch plays that lasted through the final seconds. Gardner put the Jayhawks up by two on a midrange jumper with just eight seconds left in regulation, and the outlook seemed bleak for Wildcats' fans when Romero missed what would have been the tying bucket. But Kansas State got the ball back, and Lewis dropped in a layup at the buzzer to send the game to extra minutes.
It was once again the Wildcats who controlled momentum in the early going, building a small, but significant 84-78 advantage by the halfway point in OT. For the second time in the game, however, K-State seemed to collapse, while the Jayhawks scored the game's final nine points, four of them coming as Gardner sank that many free throws in the final minute.
Kansas State still had a chance to tie with 10 seconds left in OT, but Kindred Wesemann couldn't shake free from Gardner in the right corner and forced an off-balance shot that would have only counted for two if only the ball had found the hoop.
"We were trying to set a wall screen and popped one of our screeners to the corner. We were a little short on getting the space that I had hoped that we would get," Patterson explained.
Up Next: The Jayhawks reward for their resiliency is a meeting with top-seeded Baylor in Saturday's quarterfinal. For Kansas to pull off a second upset over Baylor, they will need to replicate Friday's solid shooting: The Jayhawks made 53 percent of their shots against the Wildcats, and hit eight-of-nine free throws in the overtime period. They'll also need to find some way to contain the high-flying Odyssey Sims, which is much easier said than done. In the end, the Kansas game plan is a simple one, however:
"We just need to fight, fight like we did tonight," Gardner observed.
Game Two: No. 7 TCU 75, No. 10 Texas Tech 59
Texas Christian (18-13, 8-10) claimed its first Big 12 tournament victory in its second season of league membership, overwhelming Texas Tech (6-224, 0-18) through hustle plays and pinpoint free-throw shooting.
Red Raider guard Amber Battle kept things interesting in the first half. Battle went seven-for-11 (63.6 percent) during the first 20 minutes, for 15 of game-high 23 ponts on the night, and Ivonne CookTaylor added nine more to fuel a 34-33 Red Raider halftime lead.
The score remained close until midway through the second half when TCU's offensive distribution began to overpower the rebuilding Texas Tech program. A CookTaylor three-pointer tied the score at 46 apiece at the 13:04 mark, but seconds later, TCU's Donielle Breaux answered in kind, igniting a 17-2 run from which Texas Tech could not recover.
Four TCU players reached the double-digit mark. Zahna Medley and Natalie Ventress scored 18 points each, with Medley becoming the sixth player in school history to pass 500 points in a season. Medley's accuracy was a pedestrian 6-of-16 from the floor, but the shots she sank came at critical points to defray any psychological boost Texas Tech might have gleaned from its solid shooting performance (53.8 percent as a team) in the opening half. Latricia Lovings and Chelsea Prince followed up with 14, with Lovings posting a season-high in scoring.
The two teams shot the ball equally well from the floor (TCU-48.3 percent; Texas Tech 49 percent), but the Red Raiders were far more efficient from beyond the arc, netting five of their 13 longball attempts (38.5 percent) while the Horned Frogs lofted 14 attempts but knocked down just four of them (28.6 percent). But margin of difference came at the line, where the Frogs collected on 88.2 percent of their 17 visits to the charity stripe. If they can keep up that performance, it could prove to be a critical advantage in tight games.
The Horned Frogs took care of the basketball, coughing up just eight turnovers to Tech's 14 which the Toads converted into 15 points (to Tech's nine points off turnovers). TCU also put up 36 points in the paint while holding the Red Raiders to 20, and scored 21 second-chance points while allowing just nine. However, their 15-of-17 mark from the free throw line could prove highly significant should they uphold that marksmanship with West Virginia, a team known to suffer lapses in that facet.
CookTaylor finished the night with a season-high 18 points, plus seven rebounds, to join Battle in double figures for TCU.
Up Next: With the win, the Horned Frogs earned another chance at second-seeded West Virginia, a team they have threatened in two regular-season meetings this year, in Saturday's quarterfinals. Meanwhile, the Red Raiders face significant restructuring after the worst season in school history; the 2013-14 season is the only time Texas Tech has ever failed to win a single conference game.