Commentary

League foes could meet for fourth time

Baylor-Texas A&M, Stanford-UCLA have already played three times this season

Originally Published: March 14, 2011
By Mechelle Voepel | ESPN.com


Texas A&M guard Sydney Colson talks about what makes Baylor so tough, and how well she thinks the Aggies are playing going in to the NCAA tournament.

Asked Saturday about something that Texas A&M coach Gary Blair had said during the Big 12 tournament, Baylor's Kim Mulkey gave one of her weary looks.

"That's Gary having too much time on his hands," Mulkey said.

The topic happened to be whether the Big 12 women's tournament is too overshadowed by the accompanying men's event, which was played the same week and in the same city.

Of course, it could have been just about any topic with Blair. Maybe whether the Big 12 women's tournament should always be held closer to Texas (a rhetorical question to Blair). Or perhaps about how the Rangers will fare this season without Cliff Lee. Or maybe about his golf scores against Baylor assistant Leon Barmore. Or maybe …

[+] EnlargeBrittney Griner & Danielle Adams
Tim Larson/Icon SMIBaylor and Texas A&M have played three times since Jan. 30, with Baylor winning twice by three points (including the Big 12 title game) and once by nine points.

Blair is never short on opinions, and he might get to share them in the vicinity of Mulkey and Baylor once again in a couple of weeks. Because the selection committee threw us all a bit of a curve here, sending the Big 12's two top schools to the same region in Dallas to potentially meet for the fourth time this season. Baylor is the No. 1 seed and Texas A&M No. 2, just as they were this past weekend in the Big 12 tourney in Kansas City.

Meanwhile in the Spokane Regional, No. 1 Stanford and No. 3 UCLA also could potentially meet for a fourth time this season. No. 2 Xavier, though, is one of the teams that could stand in the way of that.

The Aggies and Bruins were both 0-3 against their respective conference rivals this season. UCLA was blown out in its initial meeting with Stanford, 64-38 in January. That was followed by a 63-57 loss in February, and then Saturday's much-tighter Pac-10 tournament final, in which Stanford rallied for a 64-55 victory against the Bruins.

For Texas A&M, all the games with Baylor this season were close: three-point losses in College Station in January and in the Big 12 final on Saturday, and a nine-point loss that was really closer than that at Waco in February.

After the Big 12 championship game, the Aggies were not upset. There were no tears or anything even close to that. They actually seemed emboldened that coming this close to Baylor again legitimized their hopes of going to the Final Four.

As Texas A&M players Sydney Carter, Sydney Colson and Danielle Adams walked back to their locker room following the postgame news conference, they encountered the Baylor players having just come off the court from their trophy celebration. The rivals exchanged hugs and told each other, "Good luck in the NCAA tournament!"

And the Aggies actually spoke as if meeting Baylor once again was a real possibility they had already considered. Of course, they were surely thinking if it happened again, it would be at the Final Four in Indianapolis, not in the final of the Dallas Regional.

[+] EnlargeStanford vs UCLA
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesStanford beat UCLA in all three meetings: a 26-point rout on Jan. 20, a 14-point win on Feb. 20 and a come-from-behind 64-55 victory in the Pac-10 title game.

If the Aggies and Lady Bears face off in Dallas on March 29, Blair will point out what will most assuredly be a much larger crowd at American Airlines Center for that game than the 4,250 who were at Municipal Auditorium for the Big 12 women's final.

It might not be a dream matchup for A&M and Baylor to meet short of the Final Four, but it should be a regional attendance bonanza to have the two Big 12 schools from Texas in Dallas.

Baylor gets to start the NCAA tournament at home in Waco, as the Lady Bears are host to No. 16 Prairie View, No. 8 Houston and No. 9 West Virginia. The regional semifinals could mean a meeting with No. 4 seed Michigan State, which would be a rematch of the 2005 NCAA championship game won by Baylor in Indy.

For Texas A&M, there are some legitimate concerns well before a potential meeting with Baylor. Blair talked last week about not minding a relatively short trip to Shreveport, La., for the early rounds of the NCAA tournament, but acknowledged that might mean a meeting with Louisiana Tech, where he was once an assistant coach for a Lady Techsters' squad that Mulkey played for.

Indeed, despite a loss to Fresno State in the WAC tourney final, Louisiana Tech will be in the NCAA field, as the No. 10 seed in Shreveport. The Lady Techsters face No. 7 Rutgers in the first round, and the Scarlet Knights have been playing well of late. Texas A&M opens with McNeese State.

If the Aggies do make it to Dallas -- which is Blair's hometown and where he started as a basketball coach at South Oak Cliff High -- they could face No. 3 seed Florida State, which advanced to the Elite Eight last season.

The Big 12 got two teams, Baylor and Oklahoma, into the Final Four last year in San Antonio. The league's hopes for another double appearance are greatly reduced with Baylor and Texas A&M being in the same region this year.

But if it comes to that, at least the Aggies -- who will be trying to make that program's first trip to the Final Four -- will know better than anybody what they're up against.

Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.

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