By Nathan Keil | Sports Writer
The top seed in the Oklahoma City region showed zero signs of rust from their 12-day layoff in easily beating the No. 16 seed Texas Southern Tigers 119-30.
The effort from Baylor’s end was historic as the 89-point margin is the largest margin of victory in NCAA Tournament history. The Lady Bears now own the records for margin of victory in the regular season and in the tournament, as they recorded a 108-point win against Winthrop on Dec. 15.
The start of the tournament was different this season as Baylor entered in the field of 68 on a losing streak for the first time in eight years after being upset by West Virginia 77-66 in the Big 12 conference tournament final. The Lady Bears, however, came out looking like the top seed and a team determined to make it to Dallas from opening tip.
Sophomore posts Beatrice Mompremier and Kalani Brown led the balanced scoring attack for Baylor. Mompremier scored 22 points and grabbed 11 rebounds while Brown finished 21 points and eight rebounds in 19 minutes while hitting nine of ten from the floor.
Baylor owned the paint, outscoring Texas Southern 74-6 down low and outrebounded the Lady Tigers 60-19.
Brown said that Baylor’s ability to control the glass and score in the paint was the key to its success against an undersized Texas Southern team.
“It is very important to dominate the paint especially when you don’t have a lot of height,” Brown said. “I think we all did that. Everybody came out ready, executed and was ready to play.”
Not only were the post players for Baylor scoring at will as they combined for 60 points, but they were also finding each other and being unselfish with the basketball, something Mompremier said they have been working on during practice.
“Coming out there, if someone is open, I feel that that they should get the ball because they’ve worked to get open,” Mompremier said. “Being able to pass it to them and help them get the shot was big.”
Baylor came screaming out of the gate connecting on its first four shots from the field and scoring the first 22 points of the game en route to a comfortable 34-5 lead at the end of one quarter.
The lead continued to grow, ballooning to 48 at the break and 69 after three. Texas Southern did not hit double digits on the scoreboard until the 1:29 mark of the second quarter.
The Lady Bears used both their size and strength inside to build their lead as well as their speedy guards to create easy scoring opportunities. Brown found herself with no one able to guard her, scoring layup after layup. Senior forward Nina Davis and redshirt senior guard Alexis Prince exploited the smaller guards on the wing, driving past them to the basket and pulling up for short jumpers.
Davis finished with 13 points and six assists. Prince finished with eight points and four assists.
Mulkey saw an exceptional effort from her bench, which scored 63 points including some sharp shooting from freshman post Lauren Cox, who saw her first NCAA tournament action. Cox scored 17 points, including hitting three of four from beyond the arc and getting a steal and driving the length of the court and getting a layup as time expired in the third period, an effort appreciated not only by her teammates who swarmed to her aid amidst the cameras but also by Baylor Nation as they rose to applaud her.
Cox admitted to the rarity of her three-point touch but certainly didn’t mind the looks her teammates were getting her.
“That was a lot of fun because they were falling for me,” Cox said. “My teammates were getting me the ball and we were working well together and sharing the ball.”
Freshman guard Natalie Chou was an efficient four of seven from the floor in scoring 12 points in her first NCAA Tournament action.
All 13 players on Baylor’s roster saw the floor and all of them scored as well.
Redshirt senior guard Alexis Jones returned to the lineup after missing the Big 12 tournament with a knee injury. She finished with five points on two of five shooting but Mulkey was pleased with what she saw from her senior leader.
“It was good to have Jones back today,” Mulkey said. “I think she gave us valuable minutes. I wanted to get her off the floor and it really showed when she had the ball in her hands how quickly she can get it down the floor.”
The Lady Tigers, champions of the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) dug themselves a hole early, unable to score until freshman guard Chynna Ewing’s jumper at the 3:37 mark in the first quarter. Texas Southern was aggressive as its guards, Ewing and junior Kaitlyn Palmer continued to drive into the paint against the Baylor posts but came up empty, either turning the ball over or getting it swatted by Brown and company. Baylor finished with 11 blocks.
Mulkey’s defense hounded Texas Southern all over the court. The Tigers were limited to 13 percent shooting for the game and had more free throws (10) to field goals (8). The defense was able to produce 21 turnovers and the Lady Bears converted those miscues into 36 points.
Baylor was a bit sloppy with the ball at times, committing 14 turnovers, but the Lady Tigers were only able to convert those mistakes into five points.
Mulkey said she loved the intensity of her defense but knows Baylor has things to work on and that it gets more difficult moving forward.
“The thing I’m most proud of is his how few points we gave up,” Mulkey said. I thought we had the foul on the three point shot and we fouled a couple of jump shooters and we can’t do that when it’s a close game. I thought our defense was so much better, particularly help side.”
Texas Southern sophomore guard Joyce Kennerson showed signs of promise for head coach Johnetta Hayes-Perry. Despite not shooting well and being blocked multiple times in the post, she continued to attack, finishing with 19 points.
Kennerson said Texas Southern did the best it could to force Baylor into mistakes and make them hurt the Lady Bears.
“We did the best we could which was to hold them accountable to their mistakes,” Kennerson said. “We capitalized on it at the end but we should be very disappointed.”
In an environment where she got limited help from her teammates, Kennerson forced the issue at times, committing seven turnovers and hitting just four of 19 shots from the floor. She was awarded for her efforts, getting to the free throw line repeatedly and hitting nine of 11 from the stripe.
Texas Southern only had two other players who scored, Palmer with eight points and Ewing with three points. They combined to shoot four of 26 from the floor.
Although the game went south very quickly for Texas Southern, Hayes Perry believes this game is something that can be used to build something special in the future.
“This game was extremely competitive on the end of Baylor. I want to take my hat off to them,” Hayes Perry said. “These young ladies have worked hard for me and this university. Today was about them growing, getting experience and building so we can get back here next year.”
Texas Southern ends its season 23-10 while Baylor improves to 31-3 and will advance to the round of 32 and play the winner of LSU and Cal on Monday.