The Big 12 men’s teams fell by the wayside early, but there were still three women’s teams that advanced to the Sweet 16 in this year’s NCAA Basketball Tournament.
That was the setting Sunday, just two days after the conference’s last hope on the men’s side of the bracket, Kansas, had been upset by lower-seed Michigan in the South Region semifinals at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Overall top-seed Baylor, on the women’s side of the tournament, Oklahomaand Kansas all had advanced to third round of the NCAA Women’s Tournament, and all three were in action on Sunday.
One by one on Sunday, all three Big 12 twomen’s eams went down to defeat, the most surprising being the upset of the country’s No, 1 team, Baylor, by Louisville, whose men’s team had punched its ticket to the men’s Final Four in a highly emotional game earlier in the day.
Kansas, only the second 12-seed ever to make it to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Women’s Tournament, was completely overmatched against No. 1 seed Notre Dame and the Fighting Irish’s All-American, Skylar Diggins. Diggins put the Irish on her shoulders right from the beginning , scoring 22 of her game-high 27 points in the opening half. “She took over and took control of the game,” said Kansas coach Bonnie Henrickson.
The Jayhawks (20-14) trailed 40-27 at halftime and Notre Dame started out right where it left off in the first stanza, opening the second half on a 22-9 run to put the game away. It was the 29th consecutive victory for the Irish, whose record on the season is now 34-1 as they head to the final of the Norfolk Regional on Tuesday night.
Oklahoma entered its regional semifinal game with two-seed Tennessee with only eight scholarship players, and one of those players, junior point guard Megan Hook, went down with a concussion in the first half, which left Sherri Coales Lady Sooners in fairly dire straights trying to compete with the likes of a traditional women’s basketball power like Tennessee. The score was tied a 11-all in the early going, but that was as close as the Sooners came, losing at home in Oklahoma City, where OU had a decided crowd advantage but lacked the roster depth and firepower on the court to overcome a very good Tennessee team.
The Sooners, who finished the season in third place in the Big 12 standings, ended the season with a 24-11 record.
No one in their right mind expected Baylor to lose in its Oklahoma City regional semifinal game with Louisville. But then, that’s why they play the games. The Lady Bears came into the game riding a 32-game winning streak and were 34-1 on the season. Fifth-seeded Louisville executed its defensive game plan to near perfection, bottling up the country’s top player in Baylor’s Brittany Griner, holding her to just four points in the first half and 14 total for the game, well under her 24-points-per-game average. Louisville made 16 of its 25 three-point field goal attempts and hit close to 50 percent of its field-goal attempts for the game. Meanwhile, Baylor was held to just over 40 percent shooting.
After being down at one point in the second half by as many as 19 points, the Lady Bears battled all the way back, actually taking a one-point lead with just nine seconds remaining in regulation. Louisville’s Monique Reed was fouled driving to the basket with just two seconds on the game clock and sunk both free throws to seal the improbable upset, 82-81
The Lady Bears had beaten 34 opponents this season by an average margin of 27 points, but that stat did them little good against a fired-up Louisville squad. So instead of the matchup everyone expected on Tuesday night at the Chesapeake Arena in Oklahoma City – No, 1 Baylor vs. No. 2 Tennessee – it will be five-seed Louisiville and the Lady Volunteers. And for the 6-8 Griner, her sensational college career is now over, and it’s on to what should be a very successful pro career in the WNBA.
Collectively, this was not the best of performances by Big 12 teams in the NCAA Tournament, both for the men and the women. The five men’s teams that were part of this year’s NCAA Basketball championship – Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Iowa State - produced a combined record of three wins and five losses. That is the worst tournament record by the Big 12 men since 1998, when four conference teams went a combined 2-4.
Even with seven teams selected for the tournament, the Big 12 women didn’t fare all that much better than the men. Three teams made it to the Sweet 16,, but the combined record for all seven tournament particpants was a very mediocre 6-7.
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