NORMAN, Okla. — Sherri Coale believes several teams could catch the same wave West Virginia surprisingly rode to a Big 12 tournament title a year ago.
The month is March, momentum is fluid. Strange things happen.
The Oklahoma women’s basketball coach is equally aware of how difficult it could be for an underdog this year in what has been a top-heavy conference.
“Having just played Texas, I’ll tell you, they’re really good,” Coale said of the No. 7 Longhorns, who led OU for more than 38 minutes in a 15-point victory Tuesday.
As for third-ranked Baylor? The Bears went 18-0 in league play to claim the top seed for this weekend’s tournament in Oklahoma City.
The eight-time reigning Big 12 regular-season champions remain powerful, even as bitter news was announced Thursday that Baylor point guard Kristy Wallace suffered a season-ending ACL injury in Monday’s game against West Virginia.
“I know Baylor is kind of reorganizing with (Wallace’s) injury, but come on,” Coale said. “Kalani Brown is the player of the year in the league, Lauren Cox is the defensive player of the year in the league.
“They’ve got great players.”
OU (16-13) plays TCU at 11 a.m. Saturday in Chesapeake Energy Arena, and with a berth in the semifinals would likely meet Baylor, which won eight regular-season league games by more than 29 points.
Like six other Big 12 teams, the Sooners are still trying to solidify an NCAA tournament spot. ESPN projects just Texas, Baylor and Oklahoma State in the field.
OU knows from past experience what a poor opening-round performance can cost. Sixth-seeded West Virginia beat OU by 30 in the 2017 quarterfinals on destructive path to the finals, which ended with a stunning win over then-No. 1 Baylor.
“Punch ‘em first in the first two minutes. That’s what happened to us,” OU senior center Vionise Pierre-Louis said of the lesson learned last year. “We were not expecting that and then were trying to fight back the entire game. So, punch them first and see how that goes.”
OU won't have many more chances in the near future to play a conference tournament 20 miles away. Oklahoma City has hosted the Big 12 women’s tournament in three of the last four seasons and will again in 2019 before handing the tournament off in 2020 to Kansas City, where the league will conduct the men’s and women’s events during the same week.
The Sooners enjoy familiar surroundings, limited travel and, generally, the luxury of sleeping in their own beds during this week, though they will stay in a downtown OKC hotel Friday before Saturday’s early tipoff. Pierre-Louis likes the extra recovery time an earlier game provides, but will “struggle in the morning,” she said.
It’s still not a bad payoff for the chance to play down the road from Lloyd Noble Center. Kansas State plays Kansas (6 p.m.) and Iowa State plays Texas Tech (8:30 p.m.) on Friday to open the tournament. Those schools are an average of 359 miles from OKC.
Coale appreciates the conveniences her team has, but doesn’t sense it possesses an overt home-court advantage at the arena, especially against the Big 12’s southern schools. Oklahoma State’s fans travel well. So do those from Texas and Baylor.
Also, it has been some time since OU roused its fan base during this weekend. The Sooners last won two games in the event in 2010.
“I don’t know that we’ve had a huge decided [crowd] advantage,” Coale said. “Maybe if we play well enough to get in the finals we would.
2018 Phillips 66 Big 12 women's basketball championship
All games at Chesapeake Energy Arena
6 p.m. — No. 8 Kansas State vs. No. 9 Kansas
8:30 p.m. — No. 7 Iowa State vs. No. 10 Texas Tech
11 a.m. — No. 4 Oklahoma vs. No. 5 TCU
1:30 p.m. — No. 1 Baylor vs. KSU/KU winner
6 p.m. — No. 2 Texas vs. ISU/TTU winner
8:30 p.m. — No. 3 Oklahoma State vs. No. 6 West Virginia
2 p.m. — Semifinals
4:30 p.m. — Semifinals
8 p.m. — Finals