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Playing for position

Conference tourneys provide final chance to shine

Posted: Friday March 2, 2007 4:18PM; Updated: Friday March 2, 2007 4:55PM
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Time is running out for a couple of the most storied programs in women's basketball. Texas and Louisiana Tech, once regular fixtures in the NCAA tournament, face the possibility of being left out of this year's bracket.

That would be quite a shock for Louisiana Tech, which is one of just two teams to make the tournament every year. Tennessee is the other.

Although they've missed the dance before, it would be especially painful for the Longhorns to be left out this year. They're hosting the first two rounds.

But instead of playing on their home court, the Longhorns may be forced to watch from the stands, thanks to terrible run in the final stretch. Texas closed out the regular season by losing seven of its last 10 games. That's not exactly the type of momentum the selection committee looks for when it chooses the field of 64.

There is hope for both programs to continue their chances at making the cut, though. Both team's conference tournaments begin on Tuesday. Both teams are looking for lengthy runs to strengthen their case for the NCAA tournament.

The Longhorns do have something that should help their cause for a 22nd tournament appearance. Their 17-13 record was hard earned with a schedule that included Duke and Tennessee, the top two teams in the country. And of course, there's the Big 12 slate that pits Texas against several NCAA tournament teams, including Baylor, Oklahoma and Texas A&M.

The Longhorns split with Oklahoma and A&M. Texas also had an impressive win over Purdue. In past years, that would have been enough. Still, Texas needs to avoid slipping off the bubble. To make the NCAA tournament for the 22nd time, the Longhorns hope to regain the form they had in those key wins against ranked opponents.

It might be happening. After all, they played the Aggies close in the regular-season finale. Texas, the seventh seed in the conference tournament, will face No. 10 Missouri in the opening round in Oklahoma City.

"We had a chance to pull it out later in the game, and I hope that the momentum can carry us into the Big 12 tournament effectively," Texas coach Jody Conradt said after Wednesday's 67-60 loss to A&M. "In order to extend our season, we have to have this positive momentum and capture it and use it next week in Oklahoma City. I never thought I'd say that I want to stay in Oklahoma for as long as possible, but that is true about next week and staying at the [conference] tournament for as long as possible to extend this season."

Louisiana Tech may need to do more than just stay. The Lady Techsters are a tougher sell than Texas. Sure, they too have 17 wins. But they also have 12 losses, including defeats to Tennessee and LSU.

Despite earning a share of the regular-season title, the Lady Techsters don't have the quality wins Texas has. They don't have the power of a conference like the Big 12 to lean on either. The WAC may not get more than one team in. So, a win in the WAC tournament isn't enough. The Lady Techsters need to win it all.

Of course, they're not the only programs whose fate rests in their conference tournament performance.

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