Friday, January 28, 2005
Lobos-Utes battle as exciting as others
By Mechelle Voepel
Special to ESPN.com
Sunday is the big whiparound day on ESPN2. Lots and lots going on. All good matchups. Whatever games you end up watching should be interesting, because they all have significant story lines.
But one of the neat things about this is a chance to get familiar -- or at least get a sense of -- some of the less-publicized rivalries in the game.
For example: New Mexico at Utah, one of the four 5 p.m. ET games. Last month, I had the opportunity to visit Albuquerque on a night New Mexico was host to BYU. After that victory, the Lobos players were asked about their next game, which was a visit by Utah. A television reporter, perhaps looking for something semi-juicy, inquired about what it was like to face the Utes ... since, as he suggested, Utah coach Elaine Elliott and New Mexico coach Don Flanagan probably aren't on each other's Christmas-card list.
The Lobos didn't bite at all. To the contrary, they gave an accurate assessment of Utah's strengths and why that was always such a tough game for them.
"Utah is the smartest team in the Mountain West," New Mexico's Mandi Moore said. "They've got a lot of experience, and they just don't ever make many mistakes."
The Lobos went on to win that game against the Utes 61-55 in front of 14,890. Both teams are vying for the MWC top spot again. Last year, Utah and New Mexico tied for the regular-season title. Then New Mexico won the MWC tournament championship game over Utah, which -- inexcusably -- was left out of the NCAA Tournament.
This season, both teams already have made pretty good cases for NCAA inclusion. Yes, that's B-O-T-H, selection-committee members.
|WHICH GAME WILL YOU SEE?
Which games will be seen in your area? Click here to check out maps for the home market protected games -- areas which will see their home-market games in their entirety. The rest of the country will be part of ESPN2's whiparound coverage, where ESPN2 takes viewers to the best action from the games.
The 3 p.m. ET games
Kansas State at Oklahoma: The Sooners have to hit their perimeter shots for games to go well for them. And when they do, they're a very dangerous team. Baylor, which seems to have a lot of mojo working this season compared to last, beat OU on Sophia Young's last-second shot on Wednesday. OU needs victories for NCAA Tournament consideration ... although last year, the Sooners did win the automatic berth by taking the Big 12 title as the No. 6 seed.
In key Big 12 road games so far, K-State beat Texas Tech but lost to Baylor and Iowa State. The Wildcats, who are in a four-way tie for the Big 12 lead, need this win for their hopes of winning the league title.
Duke at Maryland: The Terrapins are itching to finally beat Duke again, having lost the last nine meetings with the Blue Devils. Maryland has been an excellent team at times this season, especially at home. And the Terps
will be really pumped up for this one ... but so will Duke. The Blue Devils are hardly unaware of how much Maryland is targeting them.
TCU at DePaul: When TCU's Sandora Irvin and Houston's Sancho Lyttle went against each other recently, the referees apparently didn't realize they were working a college game. The much-anticipated battle between two of the
country's top big women never got a chance to materialize very well, because both of them had three fouls before halftime.
Irvin, who just became the NCAA's career leader in blocks last Saturday, led TCU to victory in that game. Sunday, she goes against a strong DePaul squad led by Khara Smith. But we should also mention DePaul freshman Allie Quigley, who is second on the team in scoring at 14.1 points per game and has really helped fill in after the difficult loss of Charlene Smith to a season-ending injury after just six games. Quigley is also averaging 3.0 assists and 2.6
Vanderbilt at Tennessee: OK, yeah, whatever. I can't help being a smart-aleck on this one. Is there any way we could just have LSU and Tennessee play again, like they did Thursday? That could be more fun.
Sorry to pick on Vandy, but is this really a rivalry? The Commodores are piloting a long-lost ship in this series. Tennessee leads it 43-6. Vandy has beaten Tennessee three times since 1990. This matchup usually goes one of
two ways: 1) Vandy gets off to a good start, but Tennessee always comes back, and; 2) Vandy is never in it.
Hopefully, for the sake of good television, Vandy will surprise us.
The other 5 p.m. ET games
Connecticut at Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights put up one of those "bad Rutgers" scores of 44 points against the Huskies when they met Feb. 3. But things could be a little different in Rutgers' house. Hard to say ... because who's going to be hot and when has been a little difficult to predict in the Big East. But if the Scarlet Knights' guards are on, of course, that bodes very well for Rutgers.
Purdue at Minnesota: OK, before Thursday night, you probably couldn't get a plug-nickel for the Boilermakers' chances in this game. But then the Golden Gophers laid a rare egg at home, getting beat 79-48 by Michigan State. The Spartans' defense has been superb most of this season, but still ...
Purdue, like Oklahoma, needs victories, period. The Boilermakers beat Penn State on Sunday and have had a bye week in preparation for Minnesota. They might be walking into a hornet's nest, though.
Texas Tech at Texas: Tech won big in the matchup in January at Lubbock, and now the Longhorns hope to return the favor. A lot of folks were ready to hand Texas the Big 12 trophy back in October, but the Longhorns have not had quite the chemistry they'd hoped for. But that can still come, and Texas will be especially hard to beat at home.
However, point guard Erin Grant has been tough-as-nails all season, and if the rest of the Lady Raiders can come
close to matching her in that department, Tech could take this game.
Mechelle Voepel of the Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. E-mail her at email@example.com.