By JASON ELMQUIST
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Oklahoma State was one of just two teams in the Big 12 Conference to win a game against each league opponent. So while the Cowboys head into the Big 12 Conference Championship as the three seed, they have one question on their mind.
“Why not us?” sophomore forward Michael Cobbins said.
OSU, which picked up more road conference victories this season than in the previous three years combined, have plenty of reason to be optimistic.
The 14th-ranked Cowboys were the only team this year to go in Allen Fieldhouse, home of the Kansas Jayhawks, and walk out victorious. Oklahoma State is also the only one of the top four seeds in the conference tournament coming off a win in the regular season finale.
But that’s not to say the road won’t be hard — far from it. The first hurdle is overcoming a Baylor team that has matched up well with OSU — holding the Cowboys to their lowest point total in a 64-54 win in Waco, Texas, then taking Oklahoma State to overtime in Stillwater where OSU held on for a 69-67 win at the buzzer.
“It definitely was ugly here, no question. There wasn’t many points scored, especially early,” Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said. “It’s two physical teams. Baylor’s a more physical team than you think — very physical defensively, because they can protect the rim.”
The Bears come in the championship looking for blood, as they likely need to win the tournament — or make as much noise as possible — to secure an NCAA berth. They already come in feeling confident with an 81-58 bludgeoning of top-seeded Kansas in the regular season finale.
Baylor players may also be looking to come out and prove people — in particular the Big 12 coaches — wrong after leaving point guard Pierre Jackson, the conference’s leading scorer at 19.3 points per league game, off the All-Big 12 first team. The only other Bears player to earn recognition was freshman center Isaiah Austin, who was named to the All-Big 12 third team as well as the Big 12 All-Rookie team.
“Much respect goes out to Pierre Jackson, I definitely think he should have been on the first team. He’s one of the best players in this league,” OSU freshman point guard Marcus Smart said. “I respect his game a lot. But we’re definitely going to see a different Baylor coming out, especially if they think they need this win. So they’re going to bring the fight to us.”
That matchup between Smart and Jackson could play a big part in deciding which team advances to Friday’s semifinal game at the Sprint Center.
In the loss in Waco, Smart was held to 12 points — though coupled with 7 assists — and turned the ball over on three occasions. Jackson scored a team-high 18 points — including 4 for 9 from 3-point range — and lost the ball just twice.
Jackson went off for 24 points and 8 assists in Baylor’s overtime loss in Stillwater, but what hurt him and the Bears was his 11 turnovers. Smart scored a team-high 14 points, 7 assists and picked up 4 steals.
“He’s very fast, quick off the ball with quick feet and quick hands,” the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Smart said of the 5-10, 180-pound Jackson. “He uses his size and his quickness — and he’s very agile — to his advantage. It’s very hard to guard a person that is as unique and talented as he is. It takes a lot of effort from not just one person, but the whole team.”