By Nathan Keil | Sports Editor
LEXINGTON, KY.- Baylor knew that if it was going to advance to the Elite Eight for the fifth straight season, the Lady Bears would need to defend Oregon State along the three-point line.
After 20 minutes of play, all was going according to plan. Despite trailing for a majority of the first half, the Lady Bears had limited Oregon State to just three of 10 from beyond the arc. And after a tough, gritty offensive rebound and put-back by freshman forward Didi Richards, Baylor held a 31-29 lead.
But Oregon State began to find its offensive flow that it had in the first quarter when it built a 20-15 lead.
With sophomore guard Mikayla Pivec running the offense, the Beavers were able to get fellow sophomore guard Kat Tudor open from distance where she was able to knock down three of her five second half attempts.
Tudor said the Beavers were able to make the necessary adjustments to open up the perimeter, not just for herself, but also for her teammates against Baylor in the second half.
“It adjusted as the game went on, but whatever helps our team win, if it’s me making threes or not, just going to do whatever is best, and just everybody found shooters so great today, and it just worked out,” Tudor said.
But it wasn’t just that Oregon State knocked down threes, as the Beavers connected on nine of 20, it was when they hit connected, often extending the lead after a mini-Baylor spurt.
And none was bigger than junior guard Katie McWilliams’ three with 12 seconds left, that propelled Oregon State to the Elite Eight with a 72-67 upset win over Baylor Friday night at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky.
Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey said that Oregon State was simply the better team tonight.
“We lost to a very good team, a team that shot it extremely well, and we seem to bring out the best in people, and that’s respect for our program, as well,” Mulkey said.
With shots not falling and sophomore forward Lauren Cox sitting on the bench after picking up her fifth foul, the Lady Bears refused to quit.
Trailing 66-58 with 2:12 remaining, freshman guard Alexis Morris showed a glimpse of the Lady Bears’ future as she single-handedly brought Baylor back and gave it a fighting chance against the Beavers.
Despite being two of 16 from the floor, Morris beat her defender off the dribble and finished the layup through contact and converted the free throw.
On Baylor’s next possession, Morris came down and drilled the Lady Bears’ second three of the game, cutting the lead to 67-64.
Following two more Oregon State free throws, Morris pulled up and splashed another three, trimming the deficit to two at 69-67.
But Morris’ attempt at late-game heroics fell short after McWiliams’ three buried the Lady Bears as they were unable to convert on their final possession to extend the game.
Defending the three-pointer wasn’t the only problem Baylor couldn’t solve against Oregon State.
That problem was six-foot-five senior center Marie Gulich, who finished with a game-high 26 points and nine rebounds.
Gulich showed a wide array of moves, attacking both junior center Kalani Brown and Cox in the post and being able to finish in traffic. She also stepped out to the free throw line extended and converted several deep jump shots.
Mulkey said that Gulich played with skill and experience well beyond her senior status and that her defense had no answers for her.
“I thought their big girl, that kid, she has to be older than a senior because she played like she was older. I mean, she was dominant. We had nobody that could guard her,” Mulkey said. “She just reminded me of my days back in international basketball, where she just dominated the floor, shooting, rebounding, finding open players. She was by far the best player on the floor tonight, and she controlled the whole thing for her team. I should call her name, right, Gülich? Heck, just a great player.”
Even when she wasn’t scoring the ball herself, she was setting the screens that opened up good looks for her teammates or required so much attention that other defenders helped out, giving quality looks to the Oregon State guards.
Tudor finished with 16 points and eight rebounds, freshman forward Taya Corosdale gave valuable minutes, contributing with 11 points.
Offensively for Baylor, it was Brown who led the way with 19 points and 10 rebounds, but was just eight of 19 from the floor and had numerous opportunities close to the basket that she wasn’t able to convert.
Brown was quick to accept the blame following the loss.
“I think it starts with myself not being able to score the ball. I let my team down tonight, honestly,” Brown said. “There was nothing we hadn’t really seen before, I just couldn’t finish my shots.”
Cox finished with 15 points and seven rebounds, but was constantly in foul trouble and fouled out with two minutes left in the fourth. Morris finished with 14 points, five rebounds and seven assists, but until the final two minutes, was unable to find her offensive rhythm.
Senior forward Dekeiya Cohen finished with 12 points and seven rebounds in her final game as a Lady Bear.
“It’s Very tough. It’s not like expected, obviously, but I think we fought hard. I think we fought until the end, and that’s all I could really ask for,” Cohen said. “I know that we all wanted it the same way I want it, even though I was a senior, but we fell a little short. But I’m proud of our overall season.”
After scoring in double figures during the first two rounds, sophomore guard Juicy Landrum failed to score, missing both of her shots from the field, a credit to the Oregon State perimeter defense.
Baylor finishes the season 33-2 overall with both losses coming to schools in the Pac-12 conference.
The loss also marks the second time in three seasons, the Lady Bears have been upset by Oregon State as the Beavers upset then top-seeded Baylor 60-57 in the 2016 Elite Eight.
No. 6 Oregon State (26-7) advances to take on the winner of No. 1 Louisville and No. 4 Stanford at noon Sunday.