Longhorns face Lady Raiders in Big 12 Championship opener

Stefan Scrafield

Fresh off their most impressive win of the season, the Longhorns will look to make it four in a row and nail down a spot in the NCAA tournament against Texas Tech (18-12, 6-12 Big 12) tonight.

After beating No. 17 Texas A&M in its final regular season game on Sunday, Texas (18-12, 8-10 Big 12) has now won three straight contests and will look to stay hot against the Lady Raiders as they begin their postseason journey at the Big 12 Championship in Kansas City, Mo. The Longhorns have been on the NCAA tournament bubble the past couple weeks and would likely be out of the tournament conversation had they not won each of their last three games.

“We’ve been playing inspired basketball recently,” said Texas head coach Gail Goestenkors. “Particularly in these last few games, when our backs have been against the wall. We’re really peaking at the right time.”

Texas will need to play with the same intensity and emotion that they’ve demonstrated over their recent three-game win streak if they hope to beat the Lady Raiders and advance to the quarterfinals of the conference tournament.

Despite their low standing in the Big 12, Texas Tech is not to be taken lightly. The Lady Raiders were undefeated in nonconference play and at 14-0 were ranked as high as No. 10 in the nation in early January.

The Lady Raiders haven’t been quite so fortunate since. A couple five-game losing skids and the inability to win the close ones have led Tech to a disappointing 4-12 record down the stretch. Seven of those 12 losses have been by nine points or less.

The Lubbock squad plays a very physical game, using its size and strength to gain position on both ends of the court. The Lady Raiders offensive attack is led by senior post Kierra Mallard, who is averaging team highs in points (11.3) and rebounds (7.9). Tech rotates a trio of bigs at the other post spot, including senior Jordan Barncastle, who had 19 points and 10 rebounds in the first meeting between these two teams.

“They’re very physical,” said Goestenkors after the first meeting. “They did work and they banged inside. Our posts were posting up about five or six feet away from the basket. When we did get the ball they doubled us, and we put the ball down and turned it over. So I just thought they were very determined.”

The Longhorn guards will also have their hands full tonight. The Lady Raider backcourt players Casey Morris and Monique Smalls have started every game for Texas Tech this season and are two of the best on-ball defenders in the Big 12. The two have a combined 146 steals and 102 blocks on the season.

If Texas can get a win tonight, they’ll remove all doubt and punch their ticket to the Big Dance, but a loss would put them right back on the bubble.

“I feel like we’re in,” Goestenkors said. “But we still feel that we need to go to the [conference] tournament and represent and do well.”