By Shehan Jeyarajah
The No. 7 Baylor Lady Bears (14-2) lost 66-55 to No. 1 Connecticut (18-0) on Monday at the Ferrell Center. The loss ended a 69-game home winning streak that stretched back to March 7, 2010. The Bears’ only two losses this season have come at the hands of top five teams.
The Lady Bears entered Monday’s spotlight basketball matchup as heavy underdogs against No. 1 Connecticut. Coming into the game, UConn played five teams ranked in the top 25, including three in the top eight. The Huskies won those games by an average of 22 points per game. In front of a season-high crowd of 9,145 spectators at the Ferrell Center, the Baylor Lady Bears were in for a challenging match.
Baylor went punch-for-punch with UConn for the first five minutes of the game to knot up the score at 10-10. The Huskies responded by going on a 7-0 run, capped off by a three-pointer from sophomore guard Moriah Jefferson. The Lady Bears fought right back and cut the lead to 15-17 behind three free throws from Sims.
UConn once again responded with a nine-point run to push the lead to 26-15 before a Sims three-pointer stopped the bleeding. Baylor was unable to cut the lead to closer than six for the last 9:56 of the first half and UConn took a 36-27 lead at half.
The Lady Bears were out-rebounded 24-15 in the first half. Baylor shot 21.4 percent from the field and only had one player shoot over 50 percent in the half. Senior point guard Odyssey Sims shot 2-for-15 in the half.
The Lady Bears came ready to play right out of the gate in the second half. After an opening layup for the Huskies, Baylor went on a 15-7 run behind multiple baskets from sophomore guard Niya Johnson and freshman forward Nina Davis. Senior guard Makenzie Robertson ignited the run with a three-pointer.
Both teams traded punches for a while, until a three-point bomb from Odyssey Sims cut the UConn lead to 50-49, the closest it would get in the second half. With under five minutes left, Baylor had a chance to cut the lead to 56-55, but Johnson turned over the ball. The next time down the floor, freshman guard Ieshia Small missed a three-point look to tie the game.
The Bears finished the last 5:12 of the game missing eight of their last nine shots as UConn pulled away with a 10-2 run. The only basket for Baylor in the final few minutes was a jumper by Nina Davis with 1:25 left.
In her worst shooting day of the year, Sims shot 4-for-25 from the field to score her 20 points. After getting to the foul line 10 times in the first half, she did not shoot a single free throw in the second half. Sims shot 16 percent from the field and all other Bears combined to shoot 41.2 percent.
“We got a great measuring stick of where we are and where we can be,” Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey said. “When Odyssey Sims has a night like she did and you’re still three points away, you have to be happy. The kids played their hearts out. It ended up being an 11-point game but it wasn’t an 11-point game.”
Davis added 11 points, three assists and a career-high 17 rebounds for Baylor. For much of the game, 5-foot-11 Davis was asked to guard 6-foot-4 sophomore forward Breanna Stewart of UConn.
“People get caught up with size,” Mulkey said. “Ask [former Texas A&M quarterback] Johnny Manziel if he worries about size.”
Davis was part of a committee that held Stewart to 4-for-14 from the field with three turnovers.
“I knew coming into the game that Breanna Stewart was a great player,” Davis said. “I just came into it and tried to use my quickness to stop her and slow her down.”
Johnson added six points, seven rebounds and six assists in 36 minutes. Robertson scored 10 points and grabbed five rebounds. She has hit a three in 11 straight games for Baylor.
Stewart posted 18 points and 11 rebounds in 39 minutes for the Huskies. Senior guard Bria Hartley added 17 points and two three-pointers. Sophomore guard Moriah Jefferson had 13 points, six rebounds, five assists, four steals and zero turnovers.
“This is what we came here for,” sophomore guard Niya Johnson said. “Just to battle and test ourselves against the No. 1 team.”
No. 7 Baylor women’s basketball will return this Sunday at 2 p.m. to play at Kansas.