OU-Texas are top 2 seeds in women's Big 12 Tournament this weekend in Kansas City

Jennie Baranczyk
Posted at 2:24 PM, Mar 06, 2024

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Oklahoma was a game above .500 following a loss to Southern three days before Christmas, and there seemed few reasons to believe the Sooners would turn around their fortunes when their last run through the Big 12 Conference began the following week.

More than two months later, Jennie Baranczyk's team has lost only three more times.

Led by Skylar Vann and Louisville transfer Payton Verhulst, the No. 19 Sooners (21-8) rolled to their first Big 12 regular-season title since 2009 before they join Texas in departing for the Southeastern Conference next season.

That also gave Oklahoma the No. 1 seed when the conference tournament begins Thursday in Kansas City.

“This team has really found itself to be a really good team,” Baranczyk said, “and I don't mean good because we won a Big 12 championship. I mean good because they cover for each other. They help each other. They believe in each other. And they never quit on each other, and they never have a second of doubt, even when it seems impossible.”

The Sooners earned a double bye as the 14-team Big 12 Tournament begins at T-Mobile Center, where the men have played for years but the women are getting equal billing for the first time. They had played down the street at Municipal Auditorium.

Oklahoma will play the TCU-Oklahoma State winner Saturday night as it seeks its first Big 12 tourney title since back-to-back championships in 2006 and '07.

“The tradition here is amazing, and everyone knows that,” said the Sooners' Lexy Keys, a transfer from Oklahoma State. “This program is amazing. This team is amazing. Playing against them, I knew that going in.”

The road to the Big 12 Tournament title won't be easy, though.

The second-seeded Longhorns (27-4), who will play the BYU-Kansas winner Saturday night, are the highest-ranked team at No. 6 in the AP Top 25 this week. In all, there are four teams in the poll and three more receiving votes, and each of those seven are almost certain locks when the NCAA Tournament selection committee meets to decide its field.

“It's been a little bit of a grind,” said Texas coach Vic Schaefer, whose team won the Big 12 tourney two years ago, “and now we go into the third season, which is the conference tournament, and then the fourth season, which is the NCAA Tournament. And both of those seasons can be a lot shorter than what we just ran through.”

Especially in the Big 12, where No. 16 Kansas State — the No. 3 seed — was ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation this season.

“We definitely ended conference play on a good note,” the Longhorns' Shaylee Gonzales said. “Obviously we're going to take that in but realize we've got games ahead of us that we need to prepare for. They're all good teams. And we've all played before.”

The women's tournament previously ran alongside the men's tournament, which allowed fans traveling to Kansas City to catch both of their teams in the same week. But the Big 12 wanted women to have the same spotlight at T-Mobile Center as the men, and that meant moving up the start of the tourney by a week. The championship game is Tuesday night.

No. 17 Baylor, which plays the Houston-Texas Tech winner Friday night, has won five straight to climb to the No. 5 seed. Other teams on the rise include fourth-seeded Iowa State (18-10), which earned the last of the four double byes, and seventh-seeded Kansas (18-11), which has won eight of its last nine games to work its way into the projected NCAA Tournament field.

Kansas State (24-6) hasn't been the same since All-America candidate Ayoka Lee missed about a month because of ankle surgery, losing five of its last nine after a 20-1 start to the season. Texas Tech was 16-6 after beating TCU on Jan. 27, but it enters the Big 12 tourney on a nine-game skid and likely needs five wins in five days to make the NCAA field.

Baylor started the season 14-0, went through a 4-6 stretch midway through the season, then beat Oklahoma State on senior day for its fifth consecutive win. Now, the Bears will go for their first Big 12 tourney title since 2021, when the Bears won the last of three straight championships under former coach Kim Mulkey.

Ninth-seeded TCU enters the Big 12 tourney 19-10 overall and 6-12 in conference play. How do the losses compute? The Horned Frogs forfeited two games when they didn't have enough healthy players, which counted against their Big 12 record but not their overall mark. They have won four of their last five and could work their way into the NCAA field in Kansas City.