Traditional Big 12 powers reach semifinals

March, 9, 2012
03/09/12
3:05
AM ET

Texas A&M senior guard Sydney Carter talks about the Aggies' Big 12 tournament-opening victory over Kansas and how she has helped tutor freshman Alexia Standish, who had 25 points versus the Jayhawks.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- There was a lot of familiarity in how Thursday's Big 12 tournament quarterfinals played out. The three teams who've all been to the Final Four in the past two seasons -- Baylor, Oklahoma and 2011 national champ Texas A&M -- advanced to Friday's semifinals, where they'll be joined by Kansas State.

Meanwhile Kansas, which hasn't been to the NCAA tournament since 2000, is left to sweat it out until Selection Monday with a glimmer of hope at 19-12.

We've been here before, right? Oh, yeah. This is my 16th Big 12 tournament, and the narrative of the past several years hasn't changed that much. What's different, though, is now there are just 10 teams, two of whom are departing after this season.

Texas A&M and Missouri will head to the SEC, and the Tigers have officially played their last game as a Big 12 team. They gave Oklahoma a scare for a little more than a half, but the Sooners rallied for a 70-59 victory. The No. 10 seed Tigers' season ends at 13-18, and so concludes an era.

Missouri was a successful team in the old Big Eight, winning the league tournament title four times. But in the Big 12 era, which began in 1996-97, the Tigers never even made it to the league tourney final. Now they will try their luck in the SEC. It's going to be quite a challenge.

No. 2 seed Oklahoma, meanwhile, bounced back from a very surprising home loss to Kansas to end the regular season. Next up for the Sooners is Texas A&M, which also lost its regular-season finale. The Aggies fell at Texas -- "It hurt my soul to lose to them twice this year," said Texas A&M senior guard Sydney Carter -- and came into this tournament looking to find their championship selves.

They encountered a Kansas team that really needed a win for its NCAA hopes, but didn't get it. The Aggies pulled away down the stretch, 78-63. Texas A&M did it without senior Tyra White, who's dealing with a foot injury. She had started all but two games in the past three seasons, and Texas A&M coach Gary Blair dreaded playing without her.

"It killed me; I was in a horrible mood," Blair said. "[But] somehow, I believed in our kids. We had great guard play today."

Indeed they did, as freshman guard Alexia Standish scored a team-high 25 points and Carter added 18 points, seven rebounds and eight assists (with no turnovers). Center Kelsey Bone had 16 points and forward Adaora Elonu 13. That's what Blair always wants to see from the Aggies: four players in double figures.

Will they be able to do that against Oklahoma, especially if White is still unable to play? The Aggies split their regular-season meetings with the Sooners, winning 75-58 at home in January, and losing 64-55 in Oklahoma in February.

Texas A&M will be trying to make its fifth consecutive Big 12 final, having won the title in 2008 and '10, and finishing runner-up in 2009 and last year. Both those championship-game losses were to Baylor, which is trying to win its fourth Big 12 tournament title.

Baylor, the undefeated No. 1 seed, pounded No. 9 seed Texas Tech 72-48 Thursday, preventing the game from being anything like the two close contests between the two teams during the regular season.

Friday, the Lady Bears face No. 5 seed Kansas State, which topped No. 4 Iowa State 67-63 in Thursday's best game at Municipal Auditorium. Jalana Childs set a K-State school record for a Big 12 tournament game with 31 points. She also had 10 rebounds. She and the Wildcats will need all that and then some against Baylor, which beat K-State 76-41 and 70-41 in their two meetings this season.

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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