March 20, 2009
(AP) - Jhasmin Player was sorely missed while she sat out Baylor's brief postseason in 2008 because of a knee injury.
With Bears leading scorer Danielle Wilson out for the remainder of this season because of the same injury, Player seems determined to help the team avoid another early exit.
Player and the second-seeded Bears look to continue their success without Wilson and make up for a short stay in last year's NCAA tournament starting Sunday night against No. 15 seed Texas-San Antonio in Lubbock, Texas.
Player blew out her knee in a win over Kansas State last Feb. 2 and missed the rest of the season. Without her, Baylor struggled through its remaining regular-season schedule before getting eliminated in the first round of the Big 12 tournament.
The Bears, a No. 3 seed, then managed to win one NCAA tournament game before getting upset by sixth-seeded Pittsburgh.
Another disappointing postseason seemed like a possibility when Wilson suffered a season-ending knee injury in the final week of the regular season. However, the Bears (27-5) looked more than capable of advancing deep into the NCAAs without their star center during the Big 12 tournament.
Fifth-ranked Baylor won three games in as many days, beating two ranked teams in that stretch and finishing with a 72-63 victory over 10th-ranked Texas A&M in the championship game last Sunday.
The only other time the Bears won the Big 12 tournament was 2005, when they went on to win the national championship.
"Danielle Wilson is good and a big loss for us but our scoring, our rebounding, it's distributed throughout the lineup," coach Kim Mulkey said. "I think you now see we're not going away."
Though limited in the first two games of the conference tourney, Player scored 19 of her season-high 25 points in the second half against the Aggies. She added eight rebounds, two shy of her season high.
"I had some sleepless nights when we lost here last year," said Player, averaging 10.8 points. "I packed for three days, and I wanted to be here three days. ... I can't even put into words how it feels."
With one tournament flop vindicated, the Bears now turn their attention to making up for last year's NCAA tournament disappointment.
"It feels good but it's not over," Player said. "We have six more games and we want to continue to work hard and we want to continue to win."
Like the Bears, the Roadrunners (24-8) are hoping to fare better in this season's tournament than they did in last year's.
UTSA was crushed 91-52 by Texas A&M in its first trip to the NCAAs last season, but Roadrunners coach Rae Rippetoe-Blair thinks her team will be more prepared this time around.
"Last year, I think we were in a little shock," Rippetoe-Blair said. "Now, we're not just happy to be in the tournament. We want to advance."
The Roadrunners captured their second consecutive Southland Conference tournament title, winning their three games by an average of 13.7 points and knocking off Texas-Arlington 74-63 in the title game last Saturday.
Jordan Stark scored 23 points and made a career-high seven 3-pointers in that game, while Onika Anderson added 18 points and 14 rebounds to secure tournament MVP honors.
"It's just amazing to see her play," UTSA point guard Monica Gibbs - last year's tournament MVP - said of Anderson. "When she's ready to play, I don't think there's anybody who can stop her."
This will be Baylor's first chance, as these teams haven't met since the Bears won 77-50 on Dec. 16, 1996. That was Baylor's fifth straight victory in the series, which it leads 8-5. The squads have split two matchups on neutral courts.
Sunday's winner advances to meet seventh-seeded South Dakota State or No. 10 seed TCU on Tuesday.