By Kristie Rieken
Baylor coach Kim Mulkey didn’t like watching a big first-half lead dwindle with star Brittney Griner on the bench. She was even more troubled when the forward’s fourth foul sent her there again in the second half.
But after the top-ranked Lady Bears overcame Griner’s foul trouble in a 69-62 win over No. 17 Texas A&M on Monday night, Mulkey saw the value in the situation.
“I was taught by some of the greats of the game to get them out of there,” Mulkey said. “We need to be in situations like that. I need to be in tough decisions. We already wrapped up the Big 12 championship. This game, you want to win it, but it’s a game to maybe see what you can do.”
Griner and Odyssey Sims scored 25 points each and the Lady Bears used a late run to hold off the Aggies.
Baylor (30-0, 17-0 Big 12) led by one point before going on a 6-0 run that was aided unintentionally by an official. Griner made a jump shot before Kimetria Hayden knocked the ball out of Alexia Standish’s hands. With the ball almost sure to go out of bounds, it bounced off an official and remained on the court, setting up a layup by Sims before Hayden added a basket to make it 67-60 with 1:39 remaining.
Both teams agreed that the play with the official was pivotal in the game, and Sims said she just did what she was taught on it.
“Coaches say: ‘The play is not over,” Sims said. “Just stay with it. If you don’t hear a whistle, keep playing.”
It was a much more competitive game than the first meeting between these teams when Baylor won 71-48.
“We’ve gotten better since we got embarrassed in Waco,” Texas A&M coach Gary Blair said.
The Lady Bears have matched the 2009-10 Nebraska team for the best start in conference history and have their second straight 30-win season.
Baylor got its 10th win in last 11 tries against A&M in Big 12 regular-season meetings, with the Aggies moving to the Southeastern Conference next season.
The crowd of more than 10,000 heckled Baylor, and especially Mulkey, throughout the game, and some fans were still yelling at players as they left the court after the win. Mulkey pumped her fist and smiled as she exited and Griner put her hand to her ear and flashed a thumbs-up on her way out.
The thumbs-up is A&M’s “Gig Em” hand signal, but Mulkey denied that Griner meant to mock A&M with her gesture. Griner said winning what could be the last game against A&M didn’t mean any more than any other victory.
“It’s always good to get a win,” she said. “It doesn’t matter who it is. The only thing we’re worried about is the NCAAs.”
The Lady Bears have already claimed their second straight regular-season conference championship and are the only undefeated team in Division I.
Griner and Sims were both in foul trouble on Monday and Griner sat out for long stretches in both halves because of it. Sims picked up her fourth foul with more than seven minutes left, but she never came out, playing 40 minutes.
Texas A&M alternated 6-foot-4 Kelsey Bone and 6-5 Karla Gilbert to try and slow Griner. They both got in foul trouble early in the second half. Gilbert fouled out with about 12 minutes remaining and Bone picked up her fourth just seconds later, sending her to the bench.
Things were evened out about a minute later when Griner picked up her fourth foul knocking Kelsey Assarian down on the offensive end and the Baylor star also left the game.
While both teams were in foul trouble in this one, the difference came at the free throw line. Baylor made 23 of its 28 attempts, while Texas A&M hit just 9 of 19, with White missing six of her 10 tries.
Sydney Carter added 13 points, Adaora Elonu had 12 points and Bone had 10 for A&M. Destiny Williams had 12 rebounds and three steals for Baylor and the 25 points by Sims tied her season high.
“It’s like they took it up another level when Griner comes off the floor,” Mulkey said of the Aggies. “When she comes off the floor it was like: ‘Oh boy, we can start doing things we normally do.’”