Big Stage For Big 12
Jan. 28, 2009
WACO, Texas (AP) - With a nation-best six teams ranked in the women's Top 25, big games are part of the norm in the Big 12.
That reaches a new plateau Wednesday night.
When No. 2 Oklahoma (16-2) plays at No. 4 Baylor (17-1) in a showdown for first place, it will be the highest-ranked conference matchup ever in the Big 12, the only league in which every team still has a winning record.
The Lady Sooners have won 12 consecutive games, one more than Baylor's current winning streak. They are the only teams to win their first five conference games.
"Welcome to the Big 12," Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said. "You look around and you've got to steal a few on the road. Wednesday would be one that we need to steal."
A difficult task, and the Lady Sooners know it.
Baylor is 10-0 at home this season, including an 81-65 victory over then-No. 2 Stanford back in November, and has won 27 of its last 28 games at the Ferrell Center. A 20-point loss in Waco was Oklahoma's most-lopsided setback last season.
"They have a lot of leadership and a lot of veterans, great players and it's always tough playing there. But it's always fun too," said Courtney Paris, who has a streak of 110 consecutive double-double games.
The Lady Bears already have two victories over Top 10 teams in the same regular season for the first time in team history - they won at then-No. 9 Texas A&M last week. They are 4-0 against Top 25 teams.
"Somebody is gonna lose. Somebody is gonna lose, and I don't think it is going to be devastating to either team, whichever team loses," Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. "I think that both teams are going to remain competitive and remain good in the league. As I say all the time, I want to win a Big 12 championship."
A conference title eluded the Lady Bears last year when they lost their regular season finale to Oklahoma State, a loss they avenged with a 75-57 victory in their last home game Jan. 17.
Baylor won its first eight conference games last season, a first in school history, getting to that mark by winning 63-49 at Kansas State in a February meeting of 7-0 Big 12 teams.
"I think this will have the same kind of atmosphere," Mulkey said.
With Courtney Paris (13.7 rebounds per game) and Ashley Paris (10.0 rpg) for Oklahoma and Baylor's Danielle Wilson (9.0 rpg), this game features the league's top three rebounders. They are the top rebounding teams, with Baylor - which has yet to be outrebounded in a game this season - holding a slight edge (45.4 to 43.9).
Both teams are outscoring their opponents by an average of 20 points a game. Only 16th-ranked Texas has a larger margin (21.4), but is coming off a 20-point loss against the Lady Sooners on Sunday - a victory Coale's group didn't even get to savor.
"We don't even get to celebrate," Coale said after that game, knowing Baylor was next. "This game is not even in the ground yet and we're already talking about the next one."
The Lady Sooners have won their last 12 games by double figures since a humbling 106-78 loss at No. 1 Connecticut on Nov. 30. That was a week after their one-point loss to North Carolina, which was the No. 2 team when it lost by 30 points against the Huskies last week.
Baylor's only loss this season was 59-58 to Wisconsin in the championship game of a Thanksgiving tournament in the Virgin Islands.
Courtney Paris has averaged 25.9 points and 16.5 rebounds in eight career games against Baylor. She has scored in double figures in all 118 of her career games, seven shy of the NCAA record, with at least 10 rebounds in the past 110 games.
"I say this in the most complimentary of ways; she is the female Shaquille O'Neal. You can't move her," Mulkey said. "You can push and shove and block and run, but when she gets to where she wants to go down in that paint area down on both ends of the floor, she is going to get those rebounds and get those points. ... I know I'm glad she is a senior."