COLUMN: Sooner basketball teams face uphill battles Saturday with games at Kansas, Baylor
Astrud Reed, The Oklahoma Daily
It’s about to get real.
Coming off home wins against Texas, both OU’s men’s and women’s basketball teams enter this weekend with plenty of momentum, one-loss conference records and road trips against top-five opponents slated for Saturday.
The No. 20 women will travel to Waco to take on the defending national champions and top-ranked Baylor Bears, and the men are headed to Lawrence for a showdown against No. 3 Kansas.
More Czech hedgehogs than Big 12 roadblocks, Baylor and Kansas present OU’s basketball teams with the biggest challenge either team has faced all season.
Baylor boasts the 2012 AP Division I Player of the Year, Final Four Most Outstanding Player and Wade Trophy winner — 6-foot-8 senior center Brittney Griner — who just so happens to be arguably the most dominant player in women’s college basketball history.
Kansas has a roster that mirrors the Sooners’ in its mix of veteran leadership and young legs, but far exceeds it in terms of talent. Most notably, freshman guard Ben McLemore and senior center Jeff Withey — both of whom are on the John R. Wooden Award midseason watch list — provide the Jayhawks with playmakers of a caliber missing from OU’s squad.
Now factor in that the Sooners will play both games on the road, and it appears all the cards are in the favor of the Big 12 heavyweights.
For either team, returning to Norman with a “W” would be the tallest of orders.
But that’s not to say it’s outside the realm of possibility.
Kansas already has dropped a game this season — a 67-64 loss to No. 13 Michigan State on Nov. 13 — and has had to eke out conference wins by the skin of its teeth against Iowa State, Texas and Kansas State.
As for Baylor, the Bears lost to Stanford, 71-69, on Nov. 16 in a game where the Cardinals attacked Griner with a stable of front-court players to hold the nation’s top player to just six rebounds while outrebounding the Bears 40-28.
And other than Griner — who is scoring 21.6 points per game — only two other Baylor players average double-digit point totals, senior forward Brooklyn Pope and junior guard Odyssey Sims — who average 11.5 points and 12.3 points per game, respectively.
If OU hopes to leave Lawrence with a win, it will need another 20-plus point effort from senior forward Romero Osby and a clean, efficient game from its three freshmen guards while slowing down the Jayhawks’ dynamic duo of McLemore and Withey.
For the Sooners to steal a victory in Waco, they’ll need a big game from junior guard and leading scorer Aaryn Ellenberg and plenty of effort and intensity from senior forward Joanna McFarland and junior center Nicole Griffin — who will be tasked with slowing down Griner.
A hard-fought win in either game would do wonders for either team’s tournament resume.
And for two teams that may be on the bubble at season’s end, it could be the difference between making the big dance or staying home.
Dillon Phillips is a journalism junior and sports editor at The Daily. You can follow him on Twitter at @DillonPhillips_