Even Cinderella herself thinks Texas Tech has a monumental journey ahead.
The Red Raiders begin the Big 12 tournament at 6 p.m. today against West Virginia at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo., with a pretty simple formula: Win and you get to play one more basketball game, delaying at least for one more day an uncertain future. Suffer a defeat and the long offseason begins.
“We have nothing to lose,” Tech forward Jaye Crockett said.
And everything to gain. But history is certainly not on Tech’s side. The Red Raiders (10-19), seeded ninth this week, haven’t won a game in the Big 12
tournament since 2010, a first-round triumph against Colorado. They haven’t won multiple games in the tournament since 2005, when they made it to the title game before losing to Oklahoma State, 72-68.
Tech has never won the Big 12 tournament. Nor has any team seeded lower than third. Baylor lost in the title game as a No. 9 seed in 2009, but that was when the tournament included 12 teams.
But that hasn’t stopped Texas Tech coach Chris Walker from discussing the NCAA Tournament with his team this week, as much of a one-in-a-million long shot as it may be.
“That’s the great thing about being in the Big 12,” Walker said. “If you win this tournament — which is more than possible, been done by a number of teams — you’re in the NCAA Tournament. I’ve continued to say time and time again that the one thing I charge and challenge my guys with is being the best team they can be by the end of the season. Save the Kansas game (a 37-point loss), I think we’ve done that.”
Never mind that top-seeded Kansas, the team that obliterated Tech a little more than a week ago, would be waiting in Thursday’s quarterfinals. First up is a West Virginia team that has already beat the Red Raiders twice this season. Tech is certainly eager to get another shot the Mountaineers after losing, 66-64, in Morgantown, W. Va., last month as Josh Gray’s potential game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer bounced off the side of the rim.
Coach Bob Huggins’ squad, which also needs to win this tournament to make the Big Dance, has lost six consecutive game since that win against Tech.
In that contest, the Mountaineers were carried by Deniz Kilicli. The 6-foot-9, 260-pound senior forward torched the Red Raiders for a career-high 25 points and Tech was in major foul trouble the entire day trying to contain him. Top front court players Jaye Crockett, Jordan Tolbert and Dejan Kravic all fouled out, and West Virginia had a 39-29 edge on the glass.
“We’re going to play him the same way and try to keep him out of the lane,” Tolbert said, “try not to let him get too many offensive rebounds. It’s not that much that’s going to be different. We just have to close out the game and keep them off the glass.”
Crockett said he hopes his team just appreciates the moment. Ty Nurse will play his last games for Tech, and it is still unclear whether Chris Walker will be coaching this team once this season ends.
But at least one more game is guaranteed, and the Red Raiders want to enjoy it.
“Just go in there and have fun and try to win,” Crockett said. “Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Just play hard every possession. It’s the last time this team will be together, so we just all have to go out there as a family and work hard.”
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