Women's Hoops: Texas Moves Into Finals

DALLAS, Texas- Sophomore guard Nina Norman handled the offensive half of the game as she matched her career high with 19 points and iced the game with two crucial free throws in the final six seconds, while the top-seeded Longhorns' defense stepped up in final minutes of the contest to hold Baylor scoreless for seven minutes, as No. 2 ranked Texas won its semifinal game of the Phillips 66 Big 12 Tournament, 63-59, Thursday night at Reunion Arena.

The top-seeded Longhorns, now 28-3, the defending Big 12 tourney champions, advanced to the title game for the second straight year and for the third time since 2000, which was UT's first showing in the conference title game.

Texas will now face No. 6 seed Oklahoma (22-8), which upset No. 2 seeded Kansas State (24-5), 78-66, in the other Thursday semifinal. Texas and OU will meet for the third time this season. Texas won both regular season meetings, by scores of 63-58 (on Jan. 10 in Austin) and 57-54 (on March 2 in Norman, Okla.). This will be the first time these two squads have met in the Big 12 tourney championship game.

Texas had a two-point lead (61-59) and the ball with 11 seconds left to play when Norman was fouled in the backcourt. Stepping to the line, she missed the front end of a one-and-one, leaving Baylor with the ball and a opportunity to either tie or take the lead with seconds to play.

Baylor took three-straight time-outs to plot a play, and on the inbounds pass in front of the Baylor bench, UT junior forward Kala Bowers knocked the pass out off bounds off of Baylor's Emily Niemann, to give Texas back the ball with six seconds left, setting up Norman's two free throws to ice the game.

After scoring seven points in the first half, Norman recorded 12 point in the second - including two key free throws with :06 remaining in the game to extend Texas' lead to four points. Senior National Player of the Year candidate Stacy Stephens (Winnsboro, Texas/Winnsboro HS) had 14 first-half points before collecting three quick fouls in the second half, which forced her to play only five second-half minutes. Stephens finished the game with 16 points and a team-high seven rebounds, and connected for a crucial lay-up with 35 seconds to play. Big 12 Freshman of the Year Tiffany Jackson (Dallas, Texas/Duncanville HS) and Schreiber each added nine points.

Holding a five-point lead - 53-48 - with 8:38 remaining in the game after a layup by sophomore Sophia Young, Baylor's offense struggled under the pressure of Texas' defense. The Texas defense tightening, forcing the Lady Bears into six turnovers and three missed shots over the next seven minutes. This included five consecutive BU turnovers in a 2:30 span. In that span, Texas went on a 9-0 run by shooting four-for-nine from the field. Down 53-48, a Norman jumper from the foul line and a driving layup by Jamie Carey cut the BU lead to one, 54-53, with 7:36 to go. UT scored the go-ahead basket 37 seconds later when Jackson scored on a layup for the 54-53 edge. Junior Heather Schreiber hit a short jumper and, fouled on the play, sank her free throw to put Texas up, 57-53, with 5:53 to go.

BU chipped away at the lead, pulling to within two three times in the final 1:40, the last time with 14 seconds to go (61-59) following a Young layup.

Neither team's lead increased more than five points throughout the game. Baylor held five-point leads twice the game while Texas had one five-point lead.

After shooting 51.6 percent (16-for-31) in the first half, Baylor cooled dramatically in the second half, connecting on only 9-of-27 shots (33.3 percent). Texas stayed steady in both half, connecting on 48.3 percent of its shots in the first before shooting 47.8 percent in the second.

For Baylor, First Team All-Big 12 honoree Young notched a career-high 30 points (12-for-23 shooting, 6-for-7 free throws) to lead all scorers. She also added a game-high nine rebounds in 35 minutes. Those were the most individual player points allowed by Texas this year. Before the Bears scoring drought down the stretch, Young scored 13-straight points to keep Baylor ahead. Young's 30 points were the most a Longhorns opponent scored against UT this season. Dionne Brown added 12 points (all in the first half) and was the only other Bear who scored in double figures.

Texas took a slim 37-35 lead into intermission, as there were three ties and six lead changes in the first 20 minutes of action. Texas took its lead into halftime following a Norman 3-pointer with nine seconds left in the half. Neither team led by more than five points in the half, with UT's biggest edge being a 20-15 lead following a Nina Norman fast break lay-up with 11:21 to go. BU's biggest lead in the first half was four points twice, the last being 29-25 on a Young put-back with 6:00 remaining. After the six-minute mark, the Longhorns regained the lead, going on a 9-0 run behind back-to-back 3-pointers from Schreiber and a Jamie Carey lay-up and free throw, which gave UT a 33-29 edge with 4:21 to go. After that, the Longhorns went scoreless for the next 4:12, missing three shots with three turnovers. In that span, the Lady Bears scored six points to regain the lead, 35-34, on another Young lay-up with 36 seconds left before Norman's trey to end the half.

Until the last 4:21 of the first half, UT had turned the ball over only four times. Both teams shot well in the opening stanza and and exhibited strong ball control, as the Longhorns turned the ball over seven times, while Baylor had nine turnovers. Brown (12 points) and Young (10 points) combined to net 22 of the Lady Bears' 35 points in the first period, and Baylor connected on 52 percent of its first-half field goal attempts, sinking 16 of 31. The Longhorns shot 48.3 percent (14-29), paced by 14 points from Stephens.

Baylor held the advantage in rebounding (19-12) and second-chance points (8-3) in the half.

In the Oklahoma-Kansas State game, the Sooners jumped out to a 49-25 halftime lead, shooting a torrid 63 percent in the first 20 minutes. OU sank 17 of 27 first-half field goal attempts. Leading the way for OU was senior guard Maria Villarroel (game-high 23 points) along with freshman forward Leah Rush (18 points). K-State, co-Big 12 regular season champions with Texas, now awaits its at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats , who shot just 37.3 percent for the game (25-67), were paced by 18 points apiece from senior Nicole Ohlde and junior Laurie Koehn.

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