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By Parmida Schahhosseini
The No. 1 Baylor Lady Bears’ uniforms shined gold, as did Baylor as they routing Texas 67-47. Among the crowd were full of former Lady Bears back for alumni weekend. Baylor also celebrated its third consecutive Big 12 Regular Season Championship, becoming the first team in Big 12 history to do so.
“It’s enjoyable, it’s for me again,” head coach Kim Mulkey said. “I enjoy people who experience this for the first time, and there were many fans out there today that were here for the first time. They came and said this is my first to be here and watch a game. I enjoy it for all the players, but I especially enjoy it for the freshman when it’s their first time to be in that environment.”
Senior center Brittney Griner started slow last time the team played Texas on Feb. 9, but this time she recorded a double-double by half time She finished the game with 30 points and 11 rebounds.
Texas played a competitive game, giving Baylor all it could handle as Texas’ Imani McGee-Stafford had flashes of greatness. Texas outrebounded Baylor 42-39, but Baylor had more second chance points and its defensive pressure caused Texas to turn the ball over.
Baylor started the first half strong, scoring the first seven points with Griner and Sims leading the way. Texas stopped the run when McGee-Stafford got a rebound allowing Chassidy Fussell to score. Baylor turned up the pressure defensively and Texas responded and began to play physical basketball. Texas went on a 6-0 run, leaving Baylor scoreless for nearly four minutes until senior guard Kimetria Hayden responded with a 2-point jumper. McGee-Stafford made her presence known as she rebounded every chance she got. However, a 10-1 run by Baylor gave the Lady Bears a strong lead.
Freshman guard Niya Johnson had a great game forcing turnovers defensively and making crisp passes like the one to Griner. After a foul on Griner, the crowd roared. Texas was only down eight points until Pope had a hard block getting the crowd in the game with Mulkey encouraging them to get louder. Baylor ended the half by forcing Texas to turn the ball over.
While Baylor scored the first points in the second half, the Lady Bears missed open looks after trying to rush. Back-to-back fouls on Teas got the crowd going. Texas made a 3-point jumper to silence the crowd, but Hayden responded with a 3-pointer of her own. Texas answered with a 6-0, but Griner and Hayden ended it with two layups of their own.
Baylor and Texas began exchanging points as both defenses had trouble getting stops. Griner and Sims hit back-to-back 2-point jumpers with Griner stealing the ball shortly after. McGee-Stafford made a 2-point layup to quiet the crowd, but in its next offensive position, Baylor’s defense turned up the pressure and forced a shot clock violation.
Baylor picked up the pace as they went on a 9-2 run. Sims started the run by getting physical in the paint and scoring. Johnson followed it up with a steal and got fouled. Sims maneuvered her way through in the next offensive possession for a layup. Senior forward Brooklyn Pope had back-to-back layups, but McGee-Stafford responded with four straight points. Sims followed it up with a one handed scoop, and Johnson laid the ball into the basket after a defensive rebound. Sims played more aggressively in the second half allowing her to have her way on both sides of the ball.
“I guess, yes, I came out a little more aggressive,” Sims said. “I was playing too fast in the first half, not letting the game come to me. So I had to slow myself down and get more composed.”
While winning the Big 12 Regular Season Championship was certainly a goal for the Lady Bears, the team still has work to do.
“The challenge for this particular team at Baylor is not just to win another National Championship, it’s what is your legacy going to be in the game of women’s basketball, ” Mulkey said. “If you could dig deep within your soul and win another championship, you will secure, in my opinion, a legacy of one of the greatest teams to ever play this game.”
Baylor will next play Oklahoma at 7 p.m. on Monday in Norman.