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Lady Raiders begin Big 12 play with big test in Austin

Posted: December 28, 2016 - 8:27pm
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The Texas Tech Lady Raiders are entering Big 12 play on a roll.

Tech has dismantled its last four opponents by an average of 32.5 points per game, including a 19-point win over a scrappy Texas-Arlington team on Dec. 22. Thursday, though, it perhaps faces its stiffest challenge of the season when it goes on the road to face No. 16 Texas in Austin (7 p.m.).

The Longhorns are 6-4 this season, but have lost to No. 11 Stanford, No. 10 Mississippi State, No. 3 South Carolina and No. 2 UConn. Texas has won the last six against the Lady Raiders, after Tech won four of five between the 2012 and 2013 seasons. Tech’s last win over Texas was on Feb. 17, 2013. But, that could all change Thursday as the Lady Raiders are 8-3 overall this season and are ranked No. 34 in the latest RPI rankings (Dec. 23).

“I follow our league all year and who is doing well and who is battle tested and who isn’t,” Texas Tech coach Candi Whitaker said. “Texas doesn’t have a lot of wins but my goodness the schedule they have played. Sure someone could be 10-0 right now but they might not have played anybody. We hit the ground running very quickly with back-to-back-to-back games.”

The Lady Raiders were picked to finish seventh in the Big 12 preseason poll, but were a unknown commodity with transfers Jada Terry, Recee’ Caldwell and Larryn Brooks taking the floor for the first time along with freshmen Arella Guirantes and Grayson Bright.

So far, those players have paid off in a big way for Texas Tech. Caldwell leads the team in scoring and assists. Terry is averaging double figures in scoring and leads the team in rebounding and Guirantes could be the Big 12 player of the year.

The Lady Raiders game against Texas begins its Big 12 slate that will see them face six teams that are ranked or receiving votes in the AP top 25 poll and five team ranked in the top 35 in RPI.

“I think it is tougher because your bottom teams have gotten so much better,” Whitaker said. “I think the talent is better from top to bottom. In the past the bottom three were not as competitive talent-wise, in athleticism or in size. I think because of that it it stronger and it is exciting.”

Probable starters

Texas Tech (8-3)

Player Pos. Ht. Pts. Reb. Ast.

R. Caldwell G 5-8 17.4 2.3 4.6

I. CookTaylor G 5-10 8.3 5.5 2.2

L. Brooks G 5-6 8.1 1.8 3.3

A. Guirantes F 5-11 13.8 5.6 1.2

J. Terry C 6-5 14.1 7.1 0.3

Texas (6-4)

Player Pos. Ht. Pts. Reb. Ast.

B. McCarty G 5-6 13.1 3.2 3.6

B. Taylor G 5-9 5.9 4.31.8

A. Atkins G 5-11 12.1 3.8 2.1

J. Holmes F 6-3 10.5 6.5 2.2

K. Lang P 6-5 10.9 8.11.5

10 fast facts

1. Big 12 play opens Thursday with all 10 teams in action.

2. Kansas State has entered the Associated Press Poll for the first time since January 16, 2012. Sixty percent of Big 12 teams are ranked or receiving votes.

3. West Virginia (12-0) is still undefeated. Oklahoma State and Baylor (11-1) both have one loss.

4. The Big 12 has a 79-21 (.790) non-conference record. Eleven of the 21 losses have been to ranked teams with eight of those teams rated in the top 10. Baylor, K-State and Texas losses have all come to top 10 opponents.

5. The Big 12 has played 25 games thus far against teams from the other autonomy conferences, in addition to three games against current No. 1-ranked Connecticut. Notre Dame was rated No. 1 at the time of its game against TCU.

6. The Big 12 is one of three leagues with at least 60 percent of its teams rated in the top 58 of NCAA RPI.

7. The Big 12 has played 16 percent of its non-conference games against top 25 opponents, the highest percentage of any league.

8. The Big 12 is one of three leagues in which every team is .500 or better. Ninety percent of Big 12 squads have a winning record.

9. It’ll be a clash of styles when the two teams meet on Jan. 4 in Morgantown. Baylor leads the conference in scoring offense, averaging 95.2 points per game, while the Mountaineers hold opponents to a Big 12-best 48.3 points per game.

10. Both Baylor and WVU boast accurate offenses with the teams taking the top two places in the Big 12 in field goal percentage at 51.3 and 48.8 respectively.

5 Key storylines

Can anyone dethrone Baylor?

For the last six seasons, the Baylor women’s basketball team has swept the conference tournament and regular season championship.

In the conference preseason polls, it seemed like another Baylor repeat was a foregone conclusion. And the Bears so far are living up to the hype. They are 11-1 overall and ranked No. 3 in the country. But, the schedule has not thrown many challenges their way. They are winning by more than 45 points per game and are only ranked 32nd in the RPI due to a softer slate.

Can Texas rebound?

The Longhorns were picked in the preseason to finished second in conference play and received one vote to win the league. However, Texas has four losses already having faced one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the nation. The Longhonrs lost to No. 11 Stanford, No. 10 Mississippi State, No. 3 South Carolina and No. 2 UConn. Despite that schedule, Texas is only ranked 80th in RPI. It is ranked No. 16 in the AP poll, though.

Mittie building K-State into winner

In just his second season as head coach at Kansas State last year, Jeff Mittie led the Wildcats to their first NCAA tournament berth since 2012. He is among the most winningest active coaches in women’s college basketball with 500 victories. The team is currently receiving votes on the AP poll and is No.20 in RPI.

Cyclones rely on trio

Three Iowa State players have accounted for 58 percent of its total scoring this season: Seanna Johnson, Jadda Buckley and Bridget Carleton. Depth could become an issue for the Cyclones should just one be unable to play, which means continued health will be crucial moving forward. Although, they are 9-2 overall, they are only 93rd on RPI.

OSU rising?

The Cowgirls, predicted in the preseason to finish ninth in Big 12, ran out to a 10-1 nonconference record with their only loss to Oregon State — which reached the Final Four last season. Now OSU has the highest RPI in the Big 12 at No. 13 in the nation. However, they it is only receiving votes in both the AP and Coaches Poll.

Here are five Big 12 players to watch entering conference play:

Alexis Jones Sr., G, Baylor

The Duke transfer made a big splash last season as the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year, scoring at least 20 points on nine different occasions while also averaging 4.4 assists per game. It’s been more of the same this year as Jones leads the Bears in scoring through nonconference play (16.6).

Karli Wheeler, G, Oklahoma State

No one on OSU’s roster has averaged more minutes per game through the nonconference than point guard Karli Wheeler (32.7). The sophomore from Plainview entered the year with expectations to split time with true freshman Jaden Hobbs, but she tore an ACL in the exhibition opener. Wheeler has responded well to the workload with 13.3 points and 2.8 assists per game.

Tynice Martin, So., G, West Virginia

The reigning Big 12 Freshman of the Year headlines a West Virginia team that finished its nonconference schedule with a perfect 12-0 record. No longer an off-the-bench spark plug, Martin has started every game and flourished with a team-leading 18.5 points per game.

Breanna Lewis, Sr., C, Kansas State

K-State cracked the top-25 poll this season for the first time since 2012, mostly thanks to its dominant center. Lewis, a 2016 All-Big 12 first-team selection, is a potential league player of the year candidate. She’s averaged 14.1 points and 9.1 rebounds in nonconference play.

Recee’ Caldwell, So., G, Texas Tech

Caldwell arrived at Tech for the 2015-16 season as a UCLA transfer, but she sat out the year per NCAA rules. She’s been sensational for the Red Raiders through her first 11 games, averaging 17.4 points and 4.6 assists per game.

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