Lady Raiders inspired by '93 champs
How can something that happened 20 years ago at Texas Tech have much to do with today's women's basketball team? After all, the coach is different, the arena is different, the conference is different.
For that matter, the sport itself is different. It has evolved in two decades, as most things do. So what does Texas Tech's 1993 national championship mean to current players in black and red?
Especially considering that the oldest of them, Casey Morris, was only 3 when Sheryl Swoopes went for 47 points against Ohio State in the NCAA final. How could that "ancient history" actually matter now? Well, you might be surprised.
Texas Tech is 20-7 overall and tied for second in the Big 12, at 10-5, with Iowa State. On Feb. 17 in Lubbock, Texas Tech celebrated the 20-year anniversary of the national championship and beat longtime archrival Texas 69-62.
Tech senior Chynna Brown said the chance to view a tape of the '93 final and talk to both Swoopes and former coach Marsha Sharp gave her and her teammates a lift.
"We watched them play," Brown said. "And seeing how hard they played, it was like, 'OK, we need to play that hard.'
"We know what they did; that was big-time. Just hearing Coach Sharp & I was thrilled just to sit and listen to what she has to say about basketball."
After missing the NCAA tournament last season, Tech is poised to go back to the Big Dance, for which Lubbock, Texas, is one of the early-round host sites. It won't be in Lubbock Municipal Coliseum, where Swoopes played her home games. Tech's gym has been United Spirit Arena since 1999. But the "Raider Nation" might be feeling some of that old mojo that for many years was so omnipresent at Texas Tech.
"We're just hungry; we're going out playing every game like it's the last game," said Brown, who at 12.7 ppg is the team's leading scorer by a smidge over Morris (12.5). "All the seniors want to go out with a bang. We have the young ones watching and learning, which is good. They feed off of us. I feel like we're playing pretty well."
That victory on Feb. 17 over the Longhorns gave coach Kristy Curry the most Big 12 wins (nine) that she's had since taking over in Lubbock for the 2006-07 season. Then, this past Sunday, Texas Tech was able to get another crucial league victory at Kansas, winning 72-70, led by Brown (20 points) and Morris (19).
After trailing by 16 at halftime, Kansas whittled away at the lead until tying the game on Angel Goodrich's 3-point play with 18 seconds left. It was the kind of situation in which Texas Tech could have crumbled emotionally, especially being on the road. Instead, Christine Hyde -- one of Tech's five seniors, along with Brown, Morris, Monique Smalls and Mary Bokenkamp -- was able to drive in for the winning basket.
"I thought Christine did a great job making a play," Curry said. "It's hard to guard us away from the basket with your bigs, and Christine got a good look."
Tech does stretch out teams and relies a lot on perimeter aggression, as Curry has been able to turn her team's overall lack of size into a strength. The tallest player in the starting lineup is 6-foot junior Kelsi Baker, and the 5-10 Hyde has been moved away from her more natural spot on the perimeter.
You've got great senior classes in the league this year, and this is one of them.” -- Texas Tech coach Kristy Curry
Texas Tech expected to be led inside by 6-3 junior post player Shauntal Nobles. But she missed the early part of the season because of Guillain-Barré syndrome, an immune-system disorder. She returned to limited action on Dec. 1, and has been working to regain her strength and stamina ever since. Nobles had six points and six rebounds in 15 minutes off the bench against Kansas.
"Early in practice, she was probably the best player on the floor," Curry said. "When you look at her today, you can see she's gradually getting it back. We've just had to make the most of what we have and tweak our system a little bit.
"When you're smaller, you have to be smarter. Credit [the players] for making plays and not focusing on our weaknesses."
Texas Tech lost two nonconference games: at New Mexico, and to Michigan State at a tournament in Las Vegas. The five Big 12 losses are all understandable: twice to Baylor, twice to Iowa State, and at Oklahoma. Texas Tech closes the regular season with three games: at home Wednesday against Oklahoma State, at Kansas State on Saturday, and back in Lubbock against Oklahoma on March 4.
"There are just so many positives so far," Curry said. "We have a chance to be second or third in the league. We all want to stay away from that fourth seed [in the Big 12 tournament]."
That's because the No. 4 seed likely will meet top-seeded Baylor in the tourney semifinals. Texas Tech is the last Big 12 team to beat Baylor in the regular season, winning 56-45 on Feb. 19, 2011. (Texas A&M, while still in the Big 12, defeated Baylor later that season in the NCAA Elite Eight.)
Last year, Texas Tech came the closest of any Big 12 team to disrupting Baylor's perfect season, losing by eight and five points in their two regular-season meetings. It wasn't close, though, when they met in the league tournament, with Baylor winning 72-48.
Similarly, this season's two games with Baylor haven't been kind to Texas Tech, which lost by 30 and 42 points to the current No. 1-ranked team. However, measuring yourself against Baylor is not the fairest metric.
Instead, let's consider that this is the first time since 2005 that Texas Tech has double-digit conference wins. And if Texas Tech finishes second, that will be the program's best Big 12 showing since being runner-up to Oklahoma in 2001.
As for the celebration of '93, Curry said, "I think you embrace the past; you don't run from it or ignore it. It's important for every team in the country to understand who's come before them and the dues they paid. It's important to respect the game like that."
That Curry -- who has had the difficult task of replacing the popular Sharp -- can say all this is a credit to her. Successful coaches can become even more "sainted" when they've stepped aside, especially one as well-liked as Sharp, who is in athletic administration at the school.
Plus, Curry took over at Texas Tech in 2006, after Baylor had won its first NCAA title and Texas A&M was also on its way to being a national power. Those two programs were not very good for much of Sharp's 24-season tenure, and their ascendence has made recruiting even tougher in the Lone Star State.
Getting back into the NCAA field will help Texas Tech in that regard. After 16 consecutive appearances (1990-2005), Texas Tech missed the NCAA tournament for the next five seasons. Curry's team returned in 2011, but then fell short of NCAA inclusion last year, too, after going 6-12 in league play.
"It hurt -- I mean, we were a free throw or two, or a possession or two, away in so many games that would have helped us to make it," Curry said. "I'm just proud of them this season. They've worked so hard. You've got great senior classes in the league this year, and this is one of them."
One thing that is the same about the '93 Texas Tech team and this one is the location of their conference tournament: Dallas. Twenty years ago, it was the Southwest Conference event played in Reunion Arena. That was demolished in 2009.
The Big 12 tournament -- which was also held at Reunion in 2003, '04 and '06 -- in March will be at American Airlines Center. Brown, a Dallas native, is happy to have a chance to play in her hometown near the end of her college career.
But she knows that whatever happens there, it won't be the end. Because the NCAA tournament will be next.
"The thing about the senior class is we're not afraid to tell each other if we're doing something wrong," Brown said. "We can go to each other and talk about anything, and we'll all hear each other out. It helps that we can express ourselves. On this team, everybody is all about winning."