Big 12 Champs: Two Wins Away From History

MANHATTAN, Kan.--Unpredictable. It's a word that really befits the 2005-2006 Kansas State women's basketball team.

In Lincoln, Neb., last Saturday the Cats looked pretty bad after having a week off. So the predictions coming into Tuesday's game against the newly-crowed Big 12 regular season champions were bleak.

There were predictions about Oklahoma's margin of victory and predictions about freshman phenom Courtney Paris renaming Bramlage Coliseum "Courtney's Playground."

So aside from Deon Warwick and her psychic friends, who would've guessed that the Cats would lead at the half and keep things competitive for 36 minutes?

The No. 9 Sooners used the final four minutes to separate themselves from Kansas State and won 78-64 in Bramlage Coliseum. Sherri Coale's squad remains undefeated in the Big 12 (23-4, 14-0) and is just two wins away from becoming the first team to run the table.

"I'm actually really glad that we have this carrot of being undefeated to dangle out there in front of them to keep them directed and going after a prize," Coale said.

"Excuse this analogy, because my husband hunts all the time, but it's like a good hunting dog, they need something to chase."

Well excuse this cliché Sherri, but the Cats gave those "good hunting dogs" a run for their money.

Kansas State struggled in the game's opening minutes falling behind 18 to 4. They were able to battle back thanks to some solid defensive efforts on Paris in the paint and a 24-9 run midway through the half.

K-State guard Twiggy McIntyre lit it up from beyond the arc in the first 20 minutes knocking down three of four. And the Wildcats' bench looked about as good as they have all season.

"I thought our bench was absolutely huge in the first half," Kansas State coach Deb Patterson said.

"I think that's what helped make us competitive tonight was the fact that the players who stepped on the floor were very committed to one another, were very focused. I felt like we really grew up as competitors tonight."

A last second 3-pointer by freshman Danielle Zanotti gave K-State 39-36 lead going into the locker room. And for just fourth time all season, (the second time in conference play) the Sooner's were trailing at the half.

Oklahoma was one and two when coming from behind. Granted, the losses were to a couple of top-15 teams you may have heard of: UCONN and Michigan State. And their lone win came at the expense of the defending national champion Baylor Bears, who by the way the Cats face on Saturday.

The Sooners were quick out of the gates outscoring Kansas State 15-2 in the first three and a half minutes and it looked like the familiar inconsistencies that had plagued them in losses against Iowa State and Nebraska had now come into being.

But junior guard Claire Coggins led the charge out a time out with seven quick points and tied things up at 50. Coggins, who was recovering from the flu, finished with 13.

The Wildcats hit that brick fall however, and never regained the lead. Shots that were falling in the first half weren't in the second and their inexperience in that kind of game situation was completely outmatched by Oklahoma.

"I go back to our pre-conference schedule," Coale said.

"Putting us in so many difficult situations sped up the maturation process of this team. And so they play older than they are and that's one of the reasons we have such poise late in games."

The Sooners outscored Kansas State 18-4 in final six minutes and held the Cats scoreless in the final 3:54.

Paris led all scorers with 22 points and grabbed a double-double with 15 rebounds. That's one point better than her season average, but credit the Wildcat posts for keeping up with her and not being intimidated.

Her 6'4" frame, free throw capabilities and dominance in the paint are comparable to Shaquille O'Neal. And the scary thing is she's only a freshman.

Junior guard Chelsi Welch added 14 points and seven boards, while the point guard tandem of Kendra Moore and Britney Brown recorded 13 and 11 points respectively.

McIntyre scored just two points in the second half, but led K-State with 15.

The Wildcats (17-8, 7-7) look to snap a three-game skid against No.11 Baylor in the final home game of the season on Saturday at 2 p.m.

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