Oklahoma City — Price: Big 12 tougher than any regional
Assuming the Kansas University baseball team hears its name called during this week’s NCAA Tournament selection show — which will air Monday at 11:30 a.m. on ESPN — the Jayhawks can take solace in the fact that, wherever they end up, it probably won’t be as unforgiving as what they just endured.
Citing the abundance of talented teams at this week’s Big 12 tournament, KU coach Ritch Price on Saturday said the upcoming NCAA regional — strange as it sounds — could very well be less competitive than what the Jayhawks just endured.
“There won’t be a regional in America as tough as this tournament is,” said Price, after Kansas closed out an 0-3 performance at the Big 12 tournament Saturday with an 8-4 loss to eighth-seeded Baylor. “That’s the reality of it. You look at Baylor, who comes in here as the No. 8 seed, they were preseason top 10 in the country. There’s no regional in America that will be as tough as this is. That’s a valid fact.”
Of the eight teams that competed in the conference tournament, six are currently ranked in at least one national poll and seven have been ranked during some point in the season.
And despite his team’s rough week in Oklahoma City, Price said he feels the experience of playing against Big 12-caliber teams on a regular basis has prepared his team to bounce back heading into the national tournament.
“I think one of the great things that this league does is it teaches you to overcome adversity and have a short-term memory,” said Price. “If you can’t handle adversity during the course of a 56-game season, this league will bury you.”
Price hopes to be on field for regional
Kansas second baseman and No. 2 hitter Robby Price is hoping a shoulder injury in Saturday’s game won’t result in any missed game time heading into this week’s NCAA regional tournament.
After making a diving stop up the middle in the first inning against Baylor, Price, who has suffered from a partially separated shoulder throughout the season, remained on the turf, writhing in pain before being helped off the field by the team’s medical staff.
“He’s going to work with our trainer all week, and his goal is to be on the field Friday (the first day NCAA regional tournaments begin),” said the elder Price. “If anybody can do it, he can. He’s got a big heart, even though he’s the smallest guy on the field.”
Despite the lingering shoulder problems, Price entered Saturday’s game batting .303 with a .453 on-base percentage and earlier in the week was named an all-Big 12 honorable mention selection by the league’s coaches.
Baylor’s Smith states case for NCAA berth
Before the start of the Big 12 tournament, the thought of an NCAA Tournament bid going to Baylor — a team that stumbled to a 27-23 record after closing its conference season with 10 straight losses — was more than a little far-fetched.
But after a somewhat surprising performance in the conference tournament, during which the Bears beat top-seeded Texas and fifth-seeded Kansas, BU coach Steve Smith on Saturday stated his case for Baylor’s NCAA inclusion.
“I think that you got to look at the body of work,” said Smith, who defended his team’s rough finish to the conference season. “If the beginning of the season’s not important, why play it? That’s how I feel about it. I think we’ve earned it. I don’t think we’re asking for anything; I think we’ve clearly earned it.”
At least one Big 12 coach didn’t disagree.
“Oklahoma was in the same situation a year ago,” said Price, whose team finished 1-3 against the Bears this season. “They come in as the eighth seed here, they win two out of three, and they go to a regional and play Arizona State for a regional championship and prove that they belong. Everybody said that they were out, and they won two and got in. And I feel the same way about Baylor.”
“When Baseball America calls the Big 12 the best conference in the country, top to bottom, I certainly feel they’re deserving.”