NCAA basketball

Balanced Big 12 Set for Last Few Weeks of Regular Season

Baylor has won the last 11 Big 12 regular-season titles (2011-21), 10 of those outright

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With the Big 12 women’s basketball season coming down to its final few weeks, the conference championship race is one of the closest in over a decade.

No. 6 Iowa State is currently sitting in first place with a 10-2 conference record. The Cyclones won their only Big 12 regular-season crown in 2000, and have a huge week ahead. They are at Texas on Wednesday and have a home contest on Saturday against Oklahoma, which is currently a game behind in the standings.

“It’s a really big week,” Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly said. “Going to Texas, we haven’t played them very well lately and Oklahoma is playing at a very high level. Our league has been very good this year.”

Baylor is tied for second with Oklahoma. Kansas is two games back, and Texas is three behind. Baylor has won the last 11 Big 12 regular-season titles (2011-21), 10 of those outright. The Bears shared it with West Virginia in 2014.

“Obviously Baylor has run this league the last decade, but if you look at the league this year, it’s so strong,” first-year Baylor coach Nicki Collen said. “Recently, the idea was that it was Baylor and Iowa State and maybe Texas, then everyone else. That’s not the case anymore.”

Baylor has rebounded after starting conference play 0-2. The Bears face TCU twice this week and have one game left against Iowa State on Feb. 28.

“What we’re excited about is we’re in the hunt,” Collen said. “Players that came here knowing the Baylor mystique learned quickly that we’ll have to show up and compete. No one will lay down.”

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Since the 2007-08 season when Kansas State was the champion, edging Baylor by a game and three other teams by two, there hasn’t been a season with three teams within two games of the regular-season champion.

“It’s a beast of a league,” said first-year Oklahoma coach Jennie Baranczyk, who is no stranger to the conference having previously served as an assistant at Kansas State and Colorado. “There were six ranked in Top 25 this year. Kansas is a very good basketball team, as well.”

Baranczyk feels that there are so many different styles of play in the league and so many talented players, like NaLyssa Smith of Baylor and Ayoka Lee of Kansas State, that make it even tougher.

“There are so many contrasting styles of play in the conference and such a high level of talent,” the Oklahoma coach said. “You can’t have the same game plan for NaLyssa, Ayoka and Ashley Joens of Iowa State.”

The conference is getting respect nationally as the Big 12 is second in the NET rating system.

“When was the last time Big 12 was second in anything?” Collen said of the high ranking.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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