By Chris Derrett
For the third time this season, Baylor’s matchup with Texas A&M went down to
the final minutes. And like the previous two contests, the Lady Bears prevailed, this time claiming the Big 12 tournament championship in the process.
Sophomore Brittney Griner scored 31 points, a Baylor Big 12 tournament record, in her team’s 61-58 victory at Kansas City’s Municipal Auditorium.
“This game is going to help us when we get into the tournament. There will be times when you get down and you’ve just got to be able to fight back,” Griner said.
The game went back-and-forth until sophomore Jordan Madden’s fastbreak layup gave the Lady Bears a 50-49 advantage. Griner then scored in the post and completed an and-1 opportunity, and Baylor would not again trail in the last nine minutes.
Texas A&M did have one last chance to force a tie, but Danielle Adams’ 23-foot 3-pointer fell short as time expired.
Griner joined senior Melissa Jones on the all-tournament team, announced at the game’s conclusion as the two Lady Bears joined their teammates’ on-court celebration.
If intensity was the key to claiming Baylor’s second Big 12 tournament crown in three years, coach Kim Mulkey could not have been happy with her team’s effort in the opening minutes.
Texas A&M forced four turnovers and blocked a shot during a 12-0 run to begin the game. After Sydney Carter scored a fastbreak layup to make the score 8-0, a frustrated Mulkey called her team’s first timeout.
“I don’t think that we came out ready to play. And if that falls on my shoulders, I’ll accept responsibility for it,” Mulkey said.
But the No. 3 ranked Lady Bears would not fall that quickly. Brooklyn Pope’s offensive rebound and putback tied the game at 16, and Griner’s jumper in the paint gave Baylor its first lead of the game at 20-18.
Pope’s rebound was one of 50 for the Lady Bears, who out-rebounded Texas A&M by 14.
“Rebounding is just one thing our coaching staff really does a good job of stressing on us to do,” Jones said. “And both not just on the defensive end but on the offensive end, just that extra effort.”
The Aggies could not find an answer for Griner throughout the game. Griner grabbed eight rebounds and blocked seven shots in addition to her 31 points, making her one of two double-figure scorers for the Lady Bears.
When Griner was not scoring, she was drawing fouls on entry passes and getting to the free throw line. The 78 percent free throw shooter was 9 of 10 from the charity stripe on Saturday.
At one point between the first and second halves, Griner scored 20 straight points for her team without even noticing it.
“Not really,” Griner said. “I mean, I knew I was scoring, but I was just trying to help my team out and they did a great job just trusting me and getting me the ball.”
Nonetheless, Texas A&M’s tenacious defense pestered the Lady Bears for the entire game.
Baylor committed 22 turnovers, the most since 24 at Connecticut on Nov. 16. The Aggies, true to their Big 12-leading steals average, also stole nine times. The defensive effort on freshman Odyssey Sims helped contain Sims to an abnormally poor 2 of 14 shooting performance, only one assist and four turnovers.
“Looking at the stats here, we have 22 turnovers to 11 assists. How many of those games are you ever going to win? How many of the games are you going to win when you go down
12-0?” Mulkey said.
At the second-half media timeout at 6:51, no Aggie was in double figures, yet they trailed Baylor by just five points. Adams and Tyra White tied team-highs with 12 points on the day, and Adaora Elonu also hit double-digits with 10.
After Baylor narrowed the early deficit, neither team led by more than five points until sophomore Destiny Williams pushed the Lady Bears’ lead to six with 6:34 remaining in the game.
Mulkey said she felt Williams, who scored 43 points and got 26 rebounds in three tournament games, should have earned all-tournament honors with Griner and Jones.