Dallas Stacy Stephens was shuffling around the court, visibly frustrated, as she and her Texas teammates struggled to keep up with a much more energetic Texas Tech squad.
Then, as the game threatened to turn into a blowout, Stephens emerged from her slump and fifth-ranked Texas managed to rally late in a 67-57 win against No. 8 Texas Tech Saturday night, giving the Longhorns their first Big 12 Conference tournament title.
"I had my doubts to as if we could stay on the floor with them. We struggled to stay close," UT coach Jody Conradt said. "I think Stacy's baskets gave us the momentum for us to believe we could win."
Texas (25-5) trailed most of the game and was down by nine points with just less than 14 minutes left, looking nothing like the team that came in with a 12-game winning streak.
Heather Schreiber scored six straight points for the Longhorns, then Stephens scored the next eight points on a variety of bruising low-post moves. Texas senior guard Tai Dillard capped the 16-3 run with a short jumper to put the Longhorns ahead 57-51. They never trailed again.
"If you look at a series of game tapes, the longer the game goes, the stronger she gets," Texas Tech coach Marsha Sharp said of Stephens. "She wears people down."
Stephens, who scored 13 of her 16 points in the second half, was selected MVP of the tournament and Schreiber was named first-team all-tournament. Schreiber finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds.
Freshman point guard Erin Grant scored 18 points to lead the Red Raiders (26-5), who lost in the Big 12 final for the first time. They won the title in 1998 and '99.
Texas won its 10th conference title, the first nine coming in the now-defunct Southwest Conference.
A tournament-record crowd of 10,717 turned out at Reunion Arena to see the latest chapter in this in-state showdown. The Longhorns swept the regular-season series, the first time that's happened since 1991. The Red Raiders beat Texas in the SWC tournament semifinals that season.
At the game's end, the Longhorns surrounded Stephens and serenaded her with chants of "M-V-P! M-V-P!" And of course, Texas' powerful forward got the first shot at snipping down the nets.
"It's a battle every time you play. I got an elbow and I got scratched," Stephens said with a smile. "I don't know what I did to them."
While Texas gets the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, the Red Raiders are assured an at-large bid. After the game, Conradt campaigned for a No. 1 seed that appears unlikely to come -- although the Longhorns beat fourth-ranked Tennessee in December.
"I don't know what the committee looks at," Conradt said. "Are we one of the top four teams? I think so."