- Mechelle Voepel, espnW.com
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Before her team's first game with Baylor this season, Texas Tech coach Kristy Curry talked about how the emotions surrounding last year's "incident" between the squads was over and done. How Tech was past it, moving forward, not really an issue anymore which everyone knew was malarkey.
Of course, Texas Tech was still peeved about it, and so were fans on both sides. Baylor won that meeting last month in Waco, Texas, but there was still the matchup in Lubbock.
That came Saturday, and perhaps it's really not very surprising that Tech's still-simmering emotions helped result in a big upset.
Texas Tech bottled up Baylor's offense, while coach Kim Mulkey's team seemed to have bottled up much of its passion. Which actually was understandable, even if it might have cost Baylor on this particular day.
Tech beat the No. 1 team 56-45, by far Baylor's lowest point total of the season. It ended Baylor's winning streak at 21 games after its one-point loss to UConn in Hartford, Conn., on Nov. 16.
Baylor shot just 25.9 percent from the field against Texas Tech. Brittney Griner was 6 of 13; the other four starters were a combined 4 of 30. Griner (15 points) and reserve Jordan Madden (11) were the only Baylor players to score in double figures.
Sophomore guards Casey Morris, a transfer from Cal, and Monique Smalls had 13 and 11 points, respectively, for Texas Tech, while junior post player Kierra Mallard had 10.
It completed a very big week for Texas Tech, which just last Saturday went into Colorado with a "must-win-to-salvage-the-season" mindset. At that point, Tech had lost six games in a row, the worst being by three points at Nebraska, which this season is in the Big 12's cellar.
Tech soundly defeated Colorado 72-44, then returned to Lubbock for what continued to be "make-or-break" time: visits from ranked teams Iowa State and Baylor. Wednesday, Tech defeated the No. 23 Cyclones 61-50, improving its Big 12 record to 5-6.
Saturday, in a "Pink Zone" game, Tech knew it needed to stick with both its offensive and defensive game plans to challenge Baylor. What Tech couldn't exactly have planned on was having such a big edge in emotion.
When Tech had visited Baylor on Jan. 22, some -- but not all -- of the Baylor fans booed Jordan Barncastle, whose nose was on the end of the punch Griner threw after the two scuffled in the game at Lubbock last March. Griner got a suspension and a lot of negative publicity, while Barncastle finished the season trying to play while wearing a mask to protect a broken nose.
Tech lost five of its last six games in 2010, with the one victory coming in the WNIT. It was the fifth season in a row Tech had missed the NCAA tournament. For a program that had made the NCAA field every year from 1990-2005, it was getting to be desperate times.
Then Tech was 13-1 in pre-conference play this season and started 3-0 in the Big 12 before the slide began. Curry kept saying her team really was improved from last year, and that the good chemistry of the group was going to pull the players through. Was it hard to keep believing that when the losing streak was at half a dozen? Sure but Curry still did.
And we've seen why this past week. Against Iowa State, Tech beat the Cyclones at their own game, hitting eight 3-pointers but also getting a dominant inside performance from Mallard (19 points, nine rebounds).
Saturday, Tech mixed up defensive looks with pressure designed to give Baylor less time to run its offense. Tech spread out its own offense and competed with a zest that Baylor didn't have.
Why did Baylor seem relatively flat? It was two-fold: Mulkey knew her team was going into a hornets' nest at United Spirit Arena, and she wanted the players to keep their cool. Which they did but maybe almost to a fault. And Mulkey herself seemed a bit subdued.
In the first half, the officials called a double technical against Mallard and Griner when they got their arms locked in the lane. Unlike last year's pyrotechnics that followed Griner and Barncastle getting locked up, virtually nothing happened with Mallard and Griner. It seemed an overreaction from the officials, as did Curry's animated response to it.
At one point, Curry appeared to be scolding both an official and a poker-faced Mulkey. It was a rather bizarre sight since Mulkey is more known for displays of feistiness. But maybe it was exactly what Curry thought her team needed to get this win.
If you're thinking Mulkey erred by being too dialed-back Saturday, it seemed calculated. She mentioned recently that she wanted to see a little more emotion from her players, even though that isn't really how they are wired. Baylor is a very young group that has relied a lot on Mulkey being the always-on pilot light.
She knows, though, that to have a chance to win a national championship, Baylor will need to have more of that come from the kids themselves. Mulkey wisely didn't whip up her players into a fever pitch going into Lubbock, for obvious reasons. But she probably also wanted them to see what happens when they play as passively as they did for a lot of Saturday's game.
Second-ranked UConn, which dispatched No. 8 Notre Dame 78-57, will move back to No. 1 in the polls. Rutgers is the only Big East program that has defeated UConn in the last six seasons (counting this one), so nobody should hold their breath expecting the Huskies to fall through the rest of the regular season or the Big East tournament in Hartford.
Baylor was rattled by Texas A&M on Monday before rallying for a 67-58 victory in Waco. Griner really came alive in the second half of that game, finishing with 26 points, but she didn't do that Saturday. Partly because her teammates didn't get the ball in her hands enough; it was one of the rare subpar performances this season by freshman guard Odyssey Sims (1 of 10 from the field, three points, three assists).
While the No. 1 ranking is gone, it's really not important. Baylor is still in line for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, provided a strong finish. In its remaining four regular-season games, Baylor is host to Kansas State and Missouri, and travels to Oklahoma and Colorado.
Baylor doesn't have the luxury of having its league tournament in its backyard; it's in Kansas City. But Baylor won the Big 12 tourney there in 2005, on its way to an NCAA title.
Ultimately, Saturday's victory means more to Texas Tech than the loss does to Baylor. At 19-7 overall and 6-6 in league play, Tech isn't quite out of the woods yet for an NCAA bid, but it's getting much closer. The rest of the schedule is still very hard: versus No. 5 Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, Texas and No. 15 Oklahoma -- all of which already have defeated Texas Tech this season.
There was a time when Texas Tech's home court was almost impenetrable, but it has lost some luster in the last several seasons. Mostly because other programs in the Big 12 greatly improved, led by Baylor and Texas A&M.
Saturday, though, it was "guns up" again in Lubbock, with students rushing onto the court to celebrate toppling No. 1. And the unpleasant events of a year ago in this matchup at this arena now seem, perhaps, successfully left in the past.
Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.
Saturday, Texas Tech mixed up defensive looks with pressure designed to give Baylor less time to run its offense -- and competed with a zest the nation's No. 1 team didn't have.