March 22, 2002

OU Coach and Player Quotes

By TIM KORTE
AP Sports Writer

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Welcome to the Big 12 regional, where either Oklahoma, Texas Tech or Colorado could become the league's first team to reach the women's Final Four.

Of course, Stanford would love to spoil the party. It could happen, too, if Nicole Powell continues her dazzling run though the NCAA tournament.

"All of those other teams have seen each other, but you get a different level of play in the tournament," Stanford center Bethany Donaphin said Friday. "Things are a lot less predictable."

The West bracket moves into the third round Saturday when No. 3 seeded Colorado (23-9) plays No. 2 Stanford (32-2) and top-seeded Oklahoma (29-3) meets No. 4 Texas Tech (20-11).

It's been a great season for the Big 12, which sent seven teams to the NCAA tournament and has five remaining in the round of 16. Top to bottom, the league was arguably the nation's best in 2001-02.

"There were a number of times the top people struggled against the 10 through 12 teams," Texas Tech coach Marsha Sharp said. "There were quality games every night. It made everybody better."

Time for the Big 12 to land some hardware to back it up. Despite filling the Top 25 every week and having nationally respected coaches at several schools, no Big 12 team has ever reached the Final Four.

Last season, the Big 12 had three teams that were seeded No. 2 in the tournament, but Iowa State, Oklahoma and Texas Tech lost in the third round.

"People nationally probably don't think the Big 12 has arrived," said Sharp, who won the 1993 NCAA title when Texas Tech played in the Southwest Conference, which merged with the Big Eight in 1996-97.

"To do that, we need to get someone to the Final Four or win a national championship in the next few years," she said.

This much is assured: The Big 12 gets at least one team in the round of eight because somebody must survive the Oklahoma-Texas Tech matchup. The Sooners decisively won both meetings this season.

"Both teams have a feel for each other's tendencies and small technicalities," said Oklahoma's Stacey Dales. "But we're having fun playing in the postseason, and we've got a strong mental edge from winning the Big 12 tournament and the Big 12 regular season. We've carried it with us."

That's a scary thought, because the Sooners were big trouble for other teams during the regular season.

They shoot 45 percent while holding opponents to 37 percent. Dales, a Canadian Olympian who helped coach Sherri Coale turn a near-dormant program into a national power, is dangerous from anywhere on the court.

"Their inside players can shoot outside and their outside players can go inside and post up," Texas Tech guard Candi White said. "I'm sure I'm going to be playing a lot of post-up defense."

Powell is one of the brightest stars of the tournament through the first two rounds. A 6-foot-2 sophomore, she had back-to-back triple doubles as Stanford beat Weber State and Tulane in the subregional.

So what's Mandy Nightengale's strategy for stopping Powell?

"Definitely, I'm not going to guard her," the 5-foot-6 Colorado point guard said with a laugh. "Our height is going to hurt us. Hopefully, our quickness on the offensive end will break them down a little."

Powell had 20 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists against Weber State, then followed it with 16 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists against Tulane.

If the Buffaloes double-team her, Stanford can turn to Lindsey Yamasaki. She scored 24 against Tulane, her second game back after missing three because of an appendectomy.

"I've been thinking about how they're going to play me," said Powell, who has posted six of the 12 triple doubles in Pac-10 history.

"There has been a lot of focus on how to stop me but whatever they throw at us, I'm confident in my teammates that we'll handle it," she said. "We are not a one-dimensional team."