March 22, 2021 

How Natasha Mack dominated in Round 1

And Moon Ursin finally gets a chance to shine

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Natasha Mack postgame. (Photo via OSUWBB on Twitter)

Oklahoma State appeared grossly underseeded

Natasha Mack is not ready to go home. She made that much clear during Oklahoma State’s 84-61 victory over Wake Forest.

“She wants to keep playing. She loves her teammates, and she’s been inspirational the last 2-3 days in practice and just telling kids how it’s going to be, and she backs it,” head coach Jim Littell said. “She came to play and was virtually unstoppable on the block.”

Mack got cooking early with eight of the Cowgirls first 10 points, but Wake Forest hung tight with Oklahoma State in the first quarter to finish the frame knotted at 15-all. Unfortunately for the Deacons, that was the last time they would sniff an upset opportunity.

Wake Forest showed it did not have an answer for Mack inside, and on the back of its big, the Cowgirls went on a 19-5 run early in the second quarter to put the game away. Mack finished with a complete statline of 27 points, 15 rebounds, four assists, four blocks and two steals. Though Wake Forest had four players finish in double-digits, it wasn’t enough to make this a real contest. On defense, Mack’s interior presence allowed the Cowgirls to guard the perimeter and press up on the Demon Deacons, and Wake Forest could not get past her 6’11 wingspan.

Mack has a game that holds up against top teams, and even as an underdog she’ll be a nightmare for top-seeded Stanford on Tuesday. She’s effectively the only post player in the Big 12 who has found any level of success against Baylor, which is a good litmus test for the level of basketball that the Cardinal plays.

Tuesday will bring America a showcase between Mack and freshman big Cameron Brink. If Mack can force Brink into the same foul trouble that has plagued her all season, Stanford may not have the frontcourt depth to stop Oklahoma State inside.

On Sunday, Oklahoma State was no one-woman show. Mack and Ja’Mee Asberry, one of the best guard-pair tandems in college basketball, combined to score 45 points. Freshman Lexy Keys, who went cold down the stretch in the regular season, overcame her struggles and scored nine points. She was part of a solid night for the first-years, who more than embraced the spotlight.

“They stayed within themselves and the moment wasn’t too big for them, they hit open shots and made good plays,” Littell said. “[Taylen Collins] made a lot of good defensive plays, had some nice drives to the bucket and the two freshmen guards hit shots … I just thought that they played with no fear today.”

The Cowgirls routinely made the extra pass against Wake Forest. That could make all the difference in the Round of 32, especially against a Stanford team that allows fewer assists per game than all but four teams in the nation.

Oklahoma State showed what I have long believed— this team is much better than an 8 seed.

Baylor starters celebrate (via Chris Jones, @chrisjonesfoto on Twitter)

Moon Ursin and the Lady Bears cruise past Jackson State

National-TV Moon Ursin is here.

For three years, Ursin waited her turn. She didn’t transfer. She didn’t complain. She just worked. And now, she’s a leader on a team with real title chances. In Baylor’s 101-52 win over Jackson State, the senior guard had a career-high 24 points to go along with six rebounds and three assists.

“I’ve been dreaming about this day since before I was even in college, you know, just thinking about being on this kind of platform, playing for one of the top teams in the nation and just balling. Today I got a piece of that feeling,” Ursin said. “Definitely a big-time moment for me and I’m going to remember it forever.

“It’s playoff time,” she said.”We have to send a message early, not only for other teams but for ourselves. We want to get out hot, we want to start out and fast. That’s how we get momentum, that’s how we get into the flow of things.”

Head coach Kim Mulkey played the entire active roster in round one and saw numerous contributors step up in San Antonio. NaLyssa Smith stayed consistent and finished with an 18-point, 10-rebound double-double, while Jordyn Oliver added 14 points and seven rebounds in relief for Ursin and DiDi Richards.

“I watch and evaluate every day in practice, shootaround, I don’t care what it is,” Mulkey said. “Jordyn Oliver got my attention this week. She can relive DiDi, she can go and play the off-guard. She penetrates zones very well. And starting out, they played a lot of zone. She gets to the paint and can elevate and make that shot.”

Mulkey’s squad looks ready to make another deep run — and more than anything else, they’re having fun on the road to it. That showed in the fourth quarter.

With six minutes left on the clock Baylor looked up and realized it had hit the evasive 90-point mark, prompting excitement from the Lady Bears’ bench. The closer Baylor’s reserves got to the 100-point plateau, the giddier the starters became from the baseline. When they finally hit it, the team absolutely lost it.

As they’ve said all season, the Lady Bears are playing for each other, and they’re playing for their second straight national championship.

The Lady Bears will face Virginia Tech on Tuesday in the Round of 32.

West Virginia in the Round of 64. (Photo via WVUWBB on Twitter)

West Virginia’s top four still looks dangerous

Though it started a little shakier than expected, West Virginia’s talent was too much for the Lehigh Mountain Hawks, helping the Mountaineers stave off an upset attempt from the Patriot League champs.

“Give credit to Lehigh too, congratulations to them getting into the tournament,” head coach Mike Carey said. “They’re a scrappy bunch. They run good offense, they do a good job of moving the ball so give them a lot of credit. I thought we come out flat, we come out tired we come out holding the ball.”

Though Lehigh stuck around for the first 15 minutes of the contest, the Mountaineers went on runs at the end of the second and third quarters to prevent this from becoming a contest.

As they’ve shown all season, West Virginia’s top four of Kysre Gondrezick, Esmery Martinez, Kari Niblack and Kirsten Deans can hang with almost any team they see in the tournament. The grouping played near-spotless basketball in the final three frames, and combined for 70 of the team’s 77 points.

Niblack has dealt with some injury issues down the stretch, though she eked out 27 strong minutes Sunday. Though she is expected to play Tuesday against Georgia Tech, Carey doesn’t know how much he’ll be able to call her name.

If they want to advance to the Sweet 16, those Mountaineers need to compile another set of stellar performances Tuesday against Lotta-Maj Lahtinen and Georgia Tech in the Round of 32. The Yellow Jackets had its own set of issues Sunday, needing a 17-point second-half comeback to escape against 12th-seeded SF Austin.

“You always play better the second game,” Carey said. “That’s been my [experience], over the years in the tournament teams normally play better in the second game. So I look for us to come out and have a great game against Georgia Tech.”

Madisen Smith, who averaged 8.7 points and 4.2 assists during the season, will also miss Tuesday’s game, as she has been out since Feb. 20 with a leg injury. Her status is unknown if the Mountaineers make it to the Sweet 16.

Written by Spencer Nusbaum

Atlanta Dream and Big 12 reporter, breaking news and other things.

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