Oklahoma coach thankful for tough Big 12 schedule

Wednesday, March 14th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Thank goodness for the Big 12.

As grinding as the league schedule can be, Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale counts her blessings to be a part of the conference, especially at this time of year.

``I don't see how our team could be any more tested and prepared for the NCAA tournament than we are after competing in this league for two months,'' Coale said Tuesday. ``This league prepares you for postseason.''

The Big 12 has a chance to make quite a splash in the tournament because seven of its teams made the field, more than any other conference.

What's more, three of them are No. 2 seeds: Oklahoma, Iowa State and Texas Tech. That could be critical for a league that has yet to send a team to the Final Four.

``I'm really proud for the Big 12 that we were rewarded by the seeds,'' Texas Tech coach Marsha Sharp said. ``Now our responsibility is not only to hold the seed, but for somebody to take it a step further and break through that barrier for us and get to the Final Four.

``I don't think we'll have the perception of the Big 12 as one of the major players in the country until we get that done. Obviously, we're in a position where we probably have the best chance to do that this year.''

Baylor, Missouri, Texas and Colorado also made the tournament out of the Big 12. It will be the first NCAA tournament trip for Baylor, which made a big turnaround under first-year coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson.

Mulkey-Robertson, a former assistant and player at Louisiana Tech, said that while she'd like to see a Big 12 team reach the Final Four, the league has enough to stand on without getting there.

``I don't want to trivialize the fact, but because we haven't done that, does that make us a weak conference?'' Mulkey-Robertson said. ``Does that not make us deserving of seven teams?

``I don't know how far any of us can go. I hope we have two or three in the Final Four. But if that doesn't happen, it's not going to take away from the fact that this is a tough league.''

One of the challenges in the NCAA tournament is finding information about the opponent, especially if it's one from a league that doesn't get on television. As of Tuesday morning, Sharp had not seen one minute of tape on her team's first-round opponent, Ivy League champion Pennsylvania.

``We had a little over 200 tapes and we had none on Penn,'' Sharp said. ``I don't think anybody we played had played them. Nobody in our conference played anybody they had played.

``For everybody else in our bracket, we had at least three films on them. When you're playing in a bracket with Tennessee and Purdue, you've got any film you want to watch.''

Colorado coach Ceal Barry was scrambling to find tape on Siena, which ventured away from the East Coast only once all season.

``It's a little frustrating to know who you play and not know anything about them,'' Barry said. ``One of our player's father is from near there and saw them play. I've spoken with him, so I've got a little idea.''

Missouri coach Cindy Stein's challenge is to make sure her players aren't satisfied with just making the tournament. The Tigers are in for the first time since 1994.

``We know it's a huge step for our program, but we want to win a game,'' Stein said. ``And then we want to win our next game. That's our focus. We don't to be happy just to be there.''

Texas coach Jody Conradt is dealing with yet another injury. Sophomore Lindsey Ryan, a key frontcourt reserve, broke her left hand in a collision at practice on Sunday, becoming the fifth Texas player sidelined by an injury this season.

``You expect injuries, but certainly I feel like Texas has had more than its share,'' Conradt said. ``I've coached a long time and never had a broken jaw, never had a broken hand and we've had both this season.''