Lady Bears headed again to Final Four

Baylor’s Brittney Griner blocks a shot by Tennessee’s Isabelle Harrison during the first half of an NCAA women’s college basketball tournament regional final, Monday in Des Moines, Iowa.
Associated Press

By Krista Pirtle
Sports Writer

In Baylor’s November matchup with Tennessee, sophomore Odyssey Sims couldn’t buy a bucket; her only points were from a pair of free throws.

“What happened with last year is done with,” Sims said. “I just tried to stay focused.”

Monday’s game was a different story as she tied her season high with 27 points, leading the No. 1 Baylor Lady Bears to the Final Four with a 77-58 victory over No. 2 seed Tennessee.

“It’s not just Brittney Griner,” Tennessee associate head coach Holly Warlick said. “They all play well together, and they were exceptional tonight. They’re outstanding on the defensive end. The sign of a great team is the other people stepping up and making plays.”

Sims and junior Destiny Williams made the All-Regional team.

Junior Brittney Griner was named the Most Outstanding Player. Griner was a block away from a her fifth career triple double with 23 points, 15 boards and nine blocks.

Junior Nae Nae Hayden was a perfect 3-of-3 from three-point land, recording 18 points on the evening.

“In practice I shoot a lot,” Hayden said. “I knew the time was going to come.”

Defensively the Lady Bears were as aggressive as they have been all season, holding Tennessee to 30.3 percent from the floor.

“We’ve been putting in that kind of effort all year,” head coach Kim Mulkey said. “ Defense wins ball games for you. You better guard people. I learned that from Pat [Summitt].”

The game did not start out quickly for the Lady Bears as Tennessee led 9-4 at the first media time out.

A three pointer by Hayden and a layup by Sims put the Lady Bears in the lead for good.

However, with fewer than 12 minutes to play, Tennessee fought back to within eight points.

But on the next Lady Bears’ possession, they worked through a half court set deep in the shot clock.

With fewer than five seconds to shoot, Sims pulled the trigger and hit from behind the arch, silencing the rowdy Lady Vols crowd.

As the clock wound down to a minute left in the game, words were exchanged between Sims and Shekinna Strickland, resulting in a double technical.

Griner, Jordan Madden and Terran Condrey raced onto the floor to grab hold of Sims. Because the three players came off the bench, all three were ejected, not for participating in a fight.

No suspensions were made since a fight did not occur.

That seemed to take away from the celebration at the end of the game, but it was just the business-minded attitudes of a team on a mission.

“I’m definitely happy we got past this game,” Griner said. “But it’s not over.”

“We’re happy to win this game and go to the Final Four,” Hayden added. “But it’s not over. We have two more games. We are happy about this, and we are going to move on.”

The Lady Bears have punched the first ticket to Denver for the Final Four.

Four games down. Two to go.