By Krista Pirtle
After senior Brittney Griner was fouled in the second half, making a move to the basket and fell, Baylor assistant coach Damion McKinney yelled, “Playin’ big girl basketball.”
And she was, leading her No. 1 Lady Bear team to an 85-51 win over No. 6 Kentucky in the State Farm Tip-Off Classic.
With 27 points, five blocks, three steals and eight boards, three of which on the offensive end, Kentucky didn’t have an answer for her, even though it took her a little over six-and-a-half minutes to score.
The Wildcats tried to double off of senior forward Destiny Williams, but she ended up with a double-double, 14 points and 12 rebounds.
“The season is here,” Williams said. “I have to play every game like its my last and try to play with lots of energy.”
Junior point guard Odyssey Sims finished the evening with 18 points, six assists and four steals.
“I thought she just competed so hard,” Kentucky head coach Matthew Mitchell said. “She did not let us make the play. High-level player, fantastic guard. We have a lot of respect for her.”
Baylor ended up playing everyone on the roster, with only three players held scoreless.
“When you play you’re entire team against the No. 6 team in the nation, you’re doing something right,” Mulkey said.
No. 6 Kentucky’s motto, “40 minutes of dread,” represents the defensive pressure the Wildcats will bring with their full-court press.
It turned out to be 40 minutes of Baylor proving its No. 1 ranking.
“There’s a reason they didn’t press a ton,” Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey said. “That press is only good if you’re turning the ball over. I thought for the second game of the year to do what we did and do it comfortably, maybe I just need to sit down and not get so stressed out, huh?”
Pregame conversations around the country consisted of the intense Kentucky defense, but Baylor and its 6-foot-8-inch preseason Big 12 Player of the Year couldn’t be contained, shooting 51 percent from the floor.
The Wildcats, however, shot 27 percent.
“Griner is such an opposing figure around the basket,” Mitchell said. “Their defense is designed to force you into jump shots.”
Last season’s SEC Player of the Year, senior point guard A’Dia Mathies, was held to three-of-18 from the floor and five more points from the charity stripe.
“Jordan Madden guarded the SEC Player of the Year,” Mulkey said. “She was three-for-18. So lets don’t forget those kids. They don’t worry about their stats. They contribute, and we can’t win without them.”
One statistic that aided the Lady Bears was their force on the boards.
Baylor pulled down 53 boards while Kentucky had only 35.
The Lady Bears were cold from downtown but outscored the Wildcats in the paint 60-16.
“I thought there were three keys to the game,” Mulkey said. “The players listened and did it pretty well. We wanted to eliminate transition baskets, make sure we didn’t turn ball over and keep their perimeter players off the offensive boards.”
Before the game began, three banners were revealed for the Lady Bears: Big 12 season championship, Big 12 tournament championship and the national championship.
“Proud for all the players,” Mulkey said. “Proud that we can represent Baylor on a national scale. Very few coaches and players ever get to do that. It was just a proud moment.”
For Griner, it was a symbol of how to finish her time at Baylor University.
For Williams, it was a foreshadowing of what is yet to come.
“We can only get better from here on out,” Williams said. “Regardless of last year.”