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Big 12/SEC Challenge: Big 12 gets first-time win on strength of upsets

The West Virginia Mountaineers beat No. 10 Mississippi State Bulldogs and the Texas Longhorns defeated No. 17 Tennessee Lady Volunteers as part of the Big 12’s impressive performance over the SEC.

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COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 08 Women’s Texas at Tennessee
Sug Sutton scored 19 points for Texas in the Longhorns 66-60 upset of Tennessee.
Photo by Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Big 12 defeated the SEC 8-2 in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. The SEC was undefeated prior to this season, with the previous two challenges ending in draws. The Big 12’s performance was highlighted by Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia, all unranked, upsetting their ranked competition.

As previously discussed, the Big 12 went into the weekend 3-0 after No. 7 Baylor, Texas Tech and Iowa State won their games with ease against Georgia, Ole Miss and Alabama, respectively. The held the peddle to the metal from there.

The Upsets

West Virginia defeated No. 10 Mississippi State 71-65, handing the Bulldogs their second straight loss. The loss was the Bulldogs’ first home non-conference defeat since 2014 — the prior was a loss to South Florida in the WNIT. Mississippi State had not lost back-to-back games since 2017. The Bulldogs trailed by eight at halftime 36-28 but responded in the third quarter, outscoring the Mountaineers 27-13 to take a 55-49 lead into the final quarter.

After a 6-0 run from West Virginia to start the quarter, it was a back-and-forth affair before true freshman Kirsten Deans hit a three-point shot to put West Virginia up 67-64 with just under two minutes left. The Mountaineers would control the game the rest of the way. Deans came off the bench to score a career-high 17 points — her third game with double-figure scoring. Jordan Danberry scored a game-high 19 points for the Bulldogs. Mississippi State will look back on their 15-of-30 performance from the free-throw line with regret.

Texas was 0-3 against the top-25 teams and 0-2 on the road before earning the 66-60 road win against No. 17 Tennessee. The Lady Vols trailed by as many as 12 points in the first half but closed the gap to a 50-49 deficit at the end of three quarters. Tennessee then opened up a 53-50 lead but Texas retook the lead at the 8:12 mark, 54-53, and never relinquished it for the rest of the game.

Two season-high performances — Sug Sutton and Lashann Higgs, with 19 points apiece — led the Longhorns in their upset win. Rennia Davis scored 15 points for the Lady Volunteers but on 4-of-12 shooting. Tennessee shot just 30 percent for the game.

Oklahoma built a 19-point halftime lead and easily beat No. 25 LSU 90-68. The top two scorers for the Sooners, Taylor Robertson and Ana Llanusa, scored 21 and 20 points, respectively. Robertson shot 50 percent from deep, making it her ninth straight game of at least three made 3-point shots. Llanusa, who is shooting 28 percent from the 3-point area, was an uncharacteristic 4-of-6. The Sooners were also aided by junior Mandy Simpson who scored a season-high 18 points. Simpson came into the game averaging just 2.8 points.

The SEC’s wins

The SEC notched its first win of the challenge with No. 23 Arkansas beating Kansas State 81-72. The Razorbacks were led by Chelsea Dungee who scored 31 points and Alex Tolefree who scored 21 points, both season highs. Dungee’s performance was her first 30-point game of the season and her fifth straight game of scoring at least 20 points. Tolefree’s 21-point performance was her second 20-point game this season.

No. 12 Texas A&M beat Oklahoma State 74-62 on the strength of a 28-13 third quarter. Chennedy Carter scored a season-high 31 points. Carter has reached at least 20 points in six of the Aggies’ eight games. Kayla Wells added a season-high 22 points. The Cowgirls’ Vivian Gray and Natasha Mack recorded double-doubles in the loss. Gray’s 19 points and 10 rebounds were her first double-double season. Mack’s 19 points and 16 rebounds made for her seventh double-double.

The Big 12 keeps winning

TCU improved to 7-0 on the season with an 80-65 win over Auburn. Lauren Heard scored 21 points for her second straight 20-point game. With 10 rebounds, she also recorded her first double-double of the season. Jaycee Bradley put up a season-high 24 points in her second game this season making five shots from beyond the arc. For Auburn, Unique Thompson poured in a season-high 31 points and recorded 15 rebounds. However, Thompson was the only Tiger to get into double figures; she has recorded a double-double in every game this season.

The Kansas Jayhawks shot an outstanding 52 percent in their 76-66 win over the Florida Gators. Kansas had five players score in double figures — three starters and two players off the bench, led by Brooklyn Mitchell and Tina Stephens with 16 points apiece. The Jayhawks could not miss in the second half, shooting 61 percent and making 5-of-7 shots from deep in the third quarter.

Next up for each team

Baylor faces Arkansas State face each other in Waco. Texas Tech welcomes Houston Baptist while Iowa State will host Iowa. Georgia returns to Athens, Ga. to face Furman while Ole Miss returns home to host Southeast Missouri State, who have lost their last two games. Alabama rebounded from its loss with a 72-52 win over Colgate and next faces North Carolina.

West Virginia will face Norfolk State in its next contest while Mississippi State faces Louisiana on the road. Texas returns home to host Ohio this week while Tennessee welcomes Colorado State to Knoxville with hopes of regrouping from its first loss of the season. Oklahoma faces Sam Houston State while LSU will travel to Fort Myers, Fla. to play Florida Gulf Coast University.

Arkansas plays its third of seven straight home games against Tulsa and Kansas State plays its second of three straight road games against University of Missouri-Kansas City. Oklahoma State returns home to face Southern and TCU takes a trip to College Station to play Texas A&M. Auburn returns home to host Bethune-Cookman while Florida faces Mercer next week in Gainesville. Kansas will play Saint Mary’s next, with the Jayhawks trying to continue their unbeaten streak of eight games.