Kansas City Primer: Sooners could defeat No. 1 Huskers
Oklahoma could win it all behind Big 12 tourney star PG Danielle Robinson
Nebraska should be confident despite its Big 12 tournament loss to Texas A&M
Notre Dame point guard Skylar Diggins will have to do better under pressure
STATE OF THE NO. 1: Nebraska
With Connecticut's historic run this season, it might be easy to forget that before the Big 12 Tournament, Nebraska was in the same category as the defending national champions -- unbeaten. A loss to Texas A&M in the Big 12 semifinals ended the Huskers' win streak at 30, but it definitely shouldn't shake their confidence. Three of their victories came against teams in the Kansas City regional, including No. 3 seed Oklahoma.
Heading into the NCAA Tournament with a loss shouldn't worry Nebraska fans. After all, it's not easy going undefeated, let alone undefeated in the Big 12. The Huskers are the first to make it through the regular season unscathed. The opening round of the conference tournament is a prime example why the Huskers are a solid postseason pick. They knocked off Kansas State despite missing all but one of 21 three-pointers and shooting just 36.5 percent.
That's because Nebraska does so many other things well. The Huskers are the top scorers in arguably the toughest league, averaging 77 points. They're one of the best in defense, holding teams under 60 a game, and control the boards better than anyone, averaging nearly 20 rebounds more than their conference foes.
A potential matchup with Kelsey Griffin and Allyssa DeHaan of Michigan State in the Sweet 16 could be intriguing, but Nebraska has too many weapons in addition to its top scorer. Griffin is one of four players averaging at least 12 points.
"We believe you need to do a lot of things well to win in this league," Nebraska Coach Connie Yori said after her team's win over Kansas State.
BRACKETBUSTER: North Carolina State
North Carolina State has already played the role of bracketbuster once this season, upsetting Virginia in the second round of the ACC Tournament. In clawing their way to the championship game, the Wolfpack took themselves from a bubble team to a No. 9 seed in their first NCAA Tournament team bid in three years.
SUSPECT TEAM: Michigan State
Allyssa DeHaan, the Big Ten defensive player of the year, is impressive for sure. So is a 22-9 record that includes wins over Xavier and Oklahoma State. But, those were months ago. The Spartans have a pretty good run going, winning eight of their last 10. Playing in the Big Ten, however, they just haven't been tested as much as other 5 seeds, or even No. 6 Texas.
JUICIEST MATCHUP: UCLA vs. NC State
The players at UCLA and North Carolina State may not have a ton of tournament experience, but their head coaches sure do. Bruins leader Nikki Caldwell won three national championships as a player and coach at Tennessee while Wolfpack head coach Kelly Harper was on three title teams at Tennessee.
GAME BREAKER: Kelsey Griffin, Nebraska
Big 12 player of the year Kelsey Griffin sat out all last season with a foot injury. It's no coincidence the Huskers missed the tournament. Griffin has come back to do a little (or a lot) of everything. She leads her team in scoring (20.3 ppg.), rebounding (10.3 rpg.) and free throw attempts (223). She's second in steals (56) and assists (55). Griffin has even knocked down a few threes for the Huskers.
"She's got a great drive, but it's the maturity that she competes with and the confidence, and she's made the game easier for everyone around her," Kansas State coach Deb Patterson said. "Usually point guards do that. It's rare when you see a post player able to do that consistently, and she does that."
BEST PLAYER YOU'VE NEVER HEARD OF: Chastity Reed, Arkansas Little Rock
The 6-foot-1 junior forward has scored more than 30 points nine times this season. Reed put up a Sun Belt Conference tournament-record 41 points in the semifinals, nearly doubling her average of 25.3 points, which is fourth best in the country. Reed, who holds the UALR career scoring and rebounding records, has fared pretty well outside the Sun Belt Conference, too. She has 23 points and rebounds against top-seeded Nebraska.
THE PRESSURES ON: Skylar Diggins, Notre Dame
Notre Dame point guard Skylar Diggins was 4-for-9 in the first half of the Big East semifinal game against Connecticut. The Irish trailed by just three points at the break. She went scoreless in the second half, though, and Notre Dame ended up with a 15-point loss. How the freshman, who made the conference all-tournament team, handles the pressure of the big dance will make a difference for the Irish, who have a potential Sweet 16 matchup with Oklahoma, a team that features one of the best point guards in the country in Danielle Robinson.
NUMBER TO PONDER: Three
That's how many NCAA Tournament wins Nebraska has under its belt. The Huskers have never made it past the second round.
THE PICK: Oklahoma
Nebraska may seem like the obvious choice, but don't count out the Sooners. Although Oklahoma's only loss came at the hands of the Huskers, they have the best point guard in the region. And guard play is huge in the tournament. The last time San Antonio hosted the Final Four, point guard Stacy Dales led Oklahoma to the championship game. With Robinson running the show, the Sooners have a good chance of getting there again. The junior point guard averaged 21 points, while dishing out 13 assists against Baylor, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M in the Big 12 Tournament.
"There is not a phase of the game that she is not committed to being excellent at and I think that sets her apart and puts her maybe, if not in a league of her own a league that's not very crowded," OU coach Sherri Coale said during the league tournament.
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