LUBBOCK — It's now time for the Texas Tech basketball team's to prove themselves to everyone outside of West Texas.
With each team's extended home stands coming to an end this week, the men's and women's basketball teams will head out this weekend to play two Division I schools and hopefully prove that they belong in the early discussions of who looks like NCAA Tournament teams.
Just like the Lady Raiders, The Lady Nittany Lions are five years removed from the NCAA Tournament and made the NIT last year, losing in the first round.
But Penn State has pounced opponents so far this season, averaging 85 points per game while giving up just 66.
"Knowing how big this game is this weekend, we know that we're going to have to knock down shots," Tech freshman Kelsi Baker said. "We're going to have to play well, offensively and defensively. We've been doing that. Our confidence is there. We know that against any team, if we play well, we can beat them. We just have to be consistent in our play."
Baker appeared to be one of the more consistent players for head coach Kristy Curry and the Lady Raiders during their 83-43 win over UT-San Antonio on Wednesday night.
It was a nice showing after a shaky performance on Sunday against Sam Houston State — a team picked to finish last in its conference but kept pace with Tech during the majority of its 65-52 loss to the Lady Raiders. It was the third game in three days for Tech during the World Vision Classic in Lubbock.
The Lady Raiders once again felt the shaky start against UTSA, missing their first 11 shots from the field before ending the half on a 36-7 tear led by Baker, Casey Morris and Kierra Mallard.
Tech continued that pace through the second half, going up by as many as 44 points. Baker ended the game with a career-high 12 points along with sophomore Casey Morris' 12. Mallard, who posted a season-high 24 points against Charleston Southern last week, notched her second consecutive game with a double-double — 12 points, 11 rebounds.
Curry admitted she has been lucky to have a healthy team so far this season and praised the team's performance through the last two weeks.
"We have to have that all year long, and it's about the double T and getting this group to buy in to being unselfish," Curry said. "If you are off the bench, if you are a starter or whatever you are called upon to do, do it with all your heart and soul. We have some folks whose minutes may go down a little bit this year, but they are more quality over quantity and getting them to buy into that is important."
Pat Knight and the men's team have already experienced what that's like to deal with health problems and is still trying to find ways to keep his bench from depleting too much too early.
Red Raiders D'walyn Roberts, Paul Cooper and Theron Jenkins have been on the bench injured for a few weeks now. Roberts and Cooper were able to log a few minutes in Tech's 86-82 win over Oral Roberts on Tuesday night, but had no huge significance in the game other than providing another body on the court and giving others some much-needed rest.
Tech (5-3) worked in spurts after jumping out in front early for a 20-13 lead with 12:30 to play in the first half. Then the Golden Eagles found a way to keep hitting big outside shots and hitting their cut players through the lane for easy layups — a problem that plagued Tech during its loss to Saint Mary's in the South Padre Invitational.
The two teams traded leads 13 times in the second half and Tech needed a huge push from senior forward Mike Singletary and five big free throws from senior guard John Roberson to pull away in the final minutes.
Singletary scored 29 points — the most since posting his 43 points against Texas A&M at the 2009 Big 12 Tournament.
"We are happy with a win," Tech coach Pat Knight said. "I know it wasn't pretty. But, sometimes you have to hug ugly. Everyone wants to hug pretty, but I'll hug ugly anytime it gets us a win. After losing two in a row, coming back, and fighting the way we did and not quitting was good for our players."
Knight's Red Raiders now face No. 22 Washington in Seattle on Saturday (3 p.m., FSN), the team they knocked off in last year's 99-92 overtime thriller in Lubbock. The Huskies have not been quite the dominant team from last season's squad that went to the Sweet 16. But it's also been a harder schedule this season. Washington's only two losses are to No. 10 Kentucky (74-67) and No. 6 Michigan State (76-71). Washington is No. 16 in field goal shooting (50 percent) and is the second-highest scoring team in the country (93.7 points per game).
"They are a well-coached team and they are going to be ready to play," Singletary said. "We know they have great players and they are going to be tough to handle."