By Jeffrey Swindoll
The Lady Bears advance to the quarterfinal after defeating the No. 3 seed Kentucky Wildcats 90-72 Saturday in Notre Dame, Ind. Baylor will play No. 1 seed Notre Dame in the Elite Eight.
Kentucky’s dribble penetration was effective, as Baylor expected before the game, but the Lady Bears’ bench stepped up. Baylor’s rebounding limited second chances for Kentucky. The Lady Bears played composed basketball discipline to give them the edge over the Wildcats.
The Lady Bears pulled ahead early, and never saw their lead closely threatened by the Wildcats for the rest of the game. Baylor needed to stay focused and kept dictating the pace and momentum of the game.
Kentucky beat Baylor 133-130 in a four-overtime thriller earlier in the season. The Lady Bears looked much different this time around. One similarity between the two games was the foul trouble both teams dealt with.
Three Baylor starters— senior guard Odyssey Sims, sophomore guard Niya Johnson and freshman forward Nina Davis picked up fouls early against Kentucky. Without Johnson, Baylor lacked its top distributor on the floor. Davis on the sideline meant other players had to fill in for her offensive prowess. Sims being on the bench removed the central engine of Baylor’s offense.
Both teams gave up seemingly soft, unnecessary fouls from time to time, and they started to add up as the game went on. Sims, Davis and Johnson each made the adjustments to rectify their defensive issues from the first half.
Johnson finished with 11 points, 11 assists and only one turnover. Johnson fouled three times in the first half, but in the second half did not foul a single time. It was the same case for Sims.
Sims, like Johnson, went into halftime with three fouls, but in the second half played completely clean with no fouls to close out the game. She ended the day with 27 points and 7 assists.
Davis was a lightning rod for drawing fouls in the paint— as has been the case all season. She will score or be fouled most of her trips to the basket. Davis shot 80 percent from the line and finished with 20 points against Kentucky. Davis picked up two fouls in the first half, but just as Johnson and Sims did, she did not foul in the second half.
Sims, Johnson and Davis did an outstanding job to stay disciplined and keep Kentucky off the foul line in the second half.
When Davis was off the court, freshman post Khadijah Cave filled those big shoes with confidence and execution. Cave did not miss a beat, grabbing a team-high 9 rebounds and 18 total points to finish behind only Sims and Davis in points.
Mulkey said before the game she has seen her team mature and improve in just about every area from the freshmen to the seniors. Her evaluation proved to be true against the Wildcats. The Lady Bears left no doubt on Saturday, and will have to face undefeated Notre Dame.