Warning: Wild weekend ahead

Updated: February 27, 2004, 11:58 AM ET
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

Ah, coaches. They could be playing the School of Infants on Wednesday and then their biggest archrival in the universe on Saturday ... and if you mention that second game, it's like a gazelle smelling a cheetah.

Nicole Ohlde
Nicole Ohlde and K-State have won four straight against Texas. But the 'Horns have won 33 straight at home.
"Hey, we've got the School of Infants next, and that's all I can think about,'' the coach will say, almost frantically. "I've got five VCRs going right now with tapes of the Babies' games. Who are we playing Saturday? I'm sure they are fabulous, but I haven't thought about them for one single, solitary second ... ''

So if they won't look ahead for a couple of days, you can be darn sure they weren't looking at the end of the regular season ... or at least won't SAY they were.

But the rest of us have been -- who can help it? -- and, sure enough, top spots in the Big Ten and Pac-10 will be decided this weekend. And the Big 12 might be, too, although it doesn't conclude the regular season until March 2-3-4.

And, it's not surprising which teams are the contenders.

Big Ten

Purdue and Penn State are both 14-1 and meet at 1:30 ET Sunday on ESPN2. These two met as imposters of themselves in a pretty gross game Jan. 2 at Purdue, a 47-42 Penn State victory.

Penn State was 18 of 53 (34.0 percent) from the floor that night, and it was the GOOD shooting team. Purdue was 13 of 63 for a please-cover-your-children's-eyes 20.6 percent.

These things happen. Purdue hasn't lost since, a 15-0 streak. Penn State's only loss was Feb. 8 at Minnesota, the game before the Gophers' Lindsay Whalen got hurt.

Kelly Mazzante
AP/Darron CummingsAfter beating Purdue on the road on Jan. 2, can Kelly Mazzante and Penn State hold court vs. the Boilers?
Penn State-Purdue is a classic battle between well-built teams that are really evenly matched. You've got the superstars in Kelly Mazzante and Shereka Wright, the prototype point guards in Jess Strom and Erika Valek.

Both teams are well-balanced. Penn State has four scorers averaging in double figures, led by Mazzante at 20.5. Purdue has two double-figure scorers, led by Wright at 20.4, and then five players who average six points or more.

Penn State is averaging 71.7 points and allowing 58.0; Purdue's numbers are 70.7 and 58.6.

And, although obviously both stars won't be thinking about this, one would guess player-of-the-year honors will ride on the outcome. Going into Sunday, they've both appeared in 26 games, but Mazzante has played 126 more minutes and taken 112 more shots. Her shooting percentage is 41.0 to Wright's 51.6, although you do have to take into consideration that Mazzante has taken 220 3-pointers to Wright's 30.

Wright has 56 more rebounds, 10 more assists, nine more blocks and three fewer turnovers. Mazzante has 20 more steals.

Everyone has their own view, obviously, but I think the stats favor Wright. However, if her team loses twice to Mazzante's ... well, you can figure that out.

Another key number Sunday could be 15,261 -- the amount of fans in the sold-out Bryce Jordan Center. They'll create quite an atmosphere for Purdue to have to overcome.

Big 12

Purple and burnt orange ... the colors of a sunset. Or a fashion nightmare. Or a really good hoops matchup.

Kansas State, 13-1, will meet Texas, 12-2, in Austin, Texas at 3 p.m. ET Sunday on Fox Sports. Both teams have navigated some rapids recently.

Last week, K-State rallied to win at Texas A&M and then in double overtime at Missouri in the most enthralling game I've seen this season. The Aggies and Tigers can cause foes all kinds of trouble. But the Wildcats' core group of Kendra Wecker, Nicole Ohlde, Megan Mahoney and Laurie Koehn -- referred to in the Sunflower State as "The Big Four'' -- are now in their third season of playing together and have understandably gotten better at pulling themselves out of jams.

The Wildcats' lone conference loss came at Nebraska on Jan. 24, a day when the Cornhuskers played terrific basketball and K-State couldn't get anything going.

Stacy Stephens
Physical Stacy Stephens of Texas might test K-State's Nicole Ohlde, last season's Big 12 Player of the Year, in the paint.
K-State hasn't lost at home this season, and neither has Texas. In fact, the Longhorns have a 33-game homecourt winning streak that dates back to January 2002, when K-State beat them 80-76 in double overtime.

K-State has won the past four meetings, but of course Texas is coming off a Final Four season and was ranked No. 1 for two weeks -- until Texas Tech pulled the upset in Lubbock on Sunday.

The Wildcats have been talented offensively from the moment the Big Four teamed up. But the questions have been with how they handle physical, quick defenses and how they themselves defend.

They lead the Big 12 in scoring margin (plus-20.2) and field-goal percentage defense (holding foes to 34.8 percent), which are indicators that they have improved on the areas that have been weak spots.

Wecker can handle any amount of physical play, and she's a natural-born creator of her own offense. It helps that she can spin and hang with the very best of them. And Wecker is the most dynamic presence on the court -- with her energy and breath-taking athleticism -- in virtually every game she plays.

Ohlde last season was a Kodak All-American and Big 12 player of the year, honors that she deserved ... but she's also the first to say they could just as easily have gone to Wecker. Their ability to co-exist so unselfishly has been a too-easily-taken-for-granted part of K-State's success.

Both kids -- who played on rival high school teams in north-central Kansas -- deserve a ton of credit for never letting any kind of individual rivalry develop.

Ohlde is so nimble and versatile and athletic around the basket. But her ability to succeed against physical defense is the No. 1 question about her, and she'll be tested by Texas' Stacy Stephens and Tiffany Jackson.

What opposing coaches credit Ohlde for that's little recognized, though, is her ability to defend anyone from point guard to center. She's much quicker and more agile laterally than your prototypical 6-foot-5 female player, and A&M coach Gary Blair pointed out that she time and again cut off penetration by his guards.

Texas has a great penetrator in Nina Norman and then twin matchup headaches in Heather Schreiber and Kala Bowers, both over 6 feet tall and with equally strong perimeter and interior skills. Guard Jamie Carey is still "the general'' who hits the big shots, such as she did when Texas survived double overtime vs. Baylor on Wednesday.

Pac-10

This won't be a head-to-head matchup. Instead, it will be about who can avoid the spoiler.

Nicole Powell
Getty ImagesStanford and Nicole Powell might have deserved better than a No. 6 seed in the Midwest.
Stanford and Arizona are each 13-4 entering their last regular-season games. The Cardinal, upset by Oregon 67-66 on Thursday, face Oregon State at 6 p.m. ET on Saturday. Arizona is at Washington at 4 p.m. ET; both games are on Fox Sports.

Once again, Stanford had depended almost an excruciating amount on senior Nicole Powell, who's averaging 20.3 points, 11.2 rebounds and 3.4 assists. It's impossible to overstate how heavy a load Powell has carried every single game of her career -- and in every aspect on both ends of the court.

Arizona's inside-out duo of Shawtinice Polk (16.1 ppg) and Dee-Dee Wheeler (17.7 ppg), on the other hand, has provided both players with someone else they can count on. Polk is sophomore power who is refining all the areas of her game and really has become a force.

Arizona's profile was dented a bit by its back-to-back losses at UCLA and USC in mid-February. But the thing about the Pac-10 is that each team's difficult road trips are usually predictable. The L.A. trip is almost always hard on Arizona.

What will be hard for Arizona on Saturday is stopping the offense of Washington, which also has two players in the top 10 in the league in scoring: Giuliana Mendiola (tied for first with Powell at 20.3) and Andrea Lalum (15.7).

So there you are ... the races will be over this weekend in two leagues. The Big 12 might go to Wednesday night, when K-State is host to Texas Tech. The day before, at 9 p.m. ET on Fox Sports, Texas will play at Oklahoma.

And as for those games ... no, don't even ask.

Mechelle Voepel is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. She can be reached at mvoepel@kcstar.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.

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