By Jeffrey Swindoll
The No. 6 Lady Bears defeated the Oklahoma Sooners 96-89 Monday at the Ferrell Center. Baylor nearly blew a sizable lead at halftime, but held on in the end to continue to be in the top spot for the Big 12 title.
Defense was not very strong for either team. It was the offense that dictated the pace of the first and second half. Both teams got the looks at the basket they wanted in the first half, but it came down to who made shots. Baylor did generally well, shooting 55 percent from the field in the first half. Oklahoma made 31.3 percent of its shots from open play.
The Sooners’ converted at a rate of 90 percent from the free throw line. In a physical first half that saw both teams into the bonus with minutes to play before halftime, Oklahoma’s strong percentage in free throws helped the Sooners stay close in a game that looked like it was already a blowout in the first half. The Lady Bears led 53-31 after 20 minutes of play.
It was one of the Lady Bears’ best offensive halves all season, but one of their worst second halves of the season followed.
“As good as it was the first half, it was just as pathetic in the second half,” Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey said. “I keep it in perspective, though. We did win the game, and we’re playing for a Big 12 championship on Sunday.”
The Lady Bears extended their commanding lead to 32 points just five minutes into the second half, but the Sooners did not give up.
As the Sooners pulled closer to Baylor on the scoreboard, Mulkey and the Lady Bears were noticeably frustrated that they gave up such a massive lead.
“I think a lot of it was they were pushing the ball really well, and we didn’t get back in transition,” senior guard Makenzie Robertson said. “They were making baskets, and we were kind of playing lackadaisical.”
Senior guard Odyssey Sims drew almost all four of her personal fouls driving in the lane on offense. She scored 38 points in the game, but Sims was not converting shots in this game like she has in the past. Sims shot 4-for-12 from downtown and 12-for-27 from the field.
Freshman forward Nina Davis continues to excel on the offensive end.
Monday was one of her best nights all season. She scored the most points she has ever scored against a Big 12 team, and tied her career-high with 28 points. Davis completed several buckets through contact and drew fouls that sparked the Lady Bears to regroup and refocus in a hectic second half.
“Nina has pretty much been consistent all year,” Mulkey said. “She’s the freshman no one knew about. I kind of expect it every night now.”
Sims and Davis combined for 66 of Baylor’s 96 points on Monday.
Oklahoma guard Aaryn Ellenberg scored 29 against the Lady Bears. Baylor had not seen that many points scored by a player or team against the Lady Bears in a long time.
Mulkey kept starting junior post Sune Agbuke on the bench in the second half.
Mulkey did not think it would be an issue because the Lady Bears started with a big lead in the second half, but later on she said it completely changed the complexion of the game.
The Lady Bears really missed Agbuke’s presence on defense, but Mulkey did not justify her team’s poor defensive effort in the second half.
“There’s going to be plenty of teaching things after this one,” Mulkey said. “I didn’t walk into the locker room celebrating. I’ll celebrate on Sunday if we win the Big 12 championship.”
The Sooners made it close at the end. Oklahoma pulled within two possessions or six points in the final minute of regulation.
Fans and players on both sides were shocked at how the game unfolded with the Lady Bears handing away the lead and Oklahoma battling back to make the game competitive. In the end, Baylor turned out to be too formidable for the Sooners.
Foul trouble wrought serious trouble for Oklahoma in the last meeting against Baylor. Oklahoma’s three big starters fouled out of the game with the majority of the second half left in the previous meeting.
This game had plenty of fouls both ways, but neither team’s star players had to check out of the game early because of fouls. The game quickly got chippy between the two Big 12 rivals.
“It’s hard to stay focused, aggressive and do all those things defensively when you just come up empty possession after possession on the offensive end,” Oklahoma head coach Sherri Coale said. “It becomes a weight after a bit, especially against a really, really good team like Baylor.”
It might not have been pretty, but Baylor closed out the game with the win, and the Bears are now in position to win another Big 12 championship on Sunday.
The Lady Bears face West Virginia at 1:30 p.m. Sunday for the last home game of the season at the Ferrell Center. The game will be televised on Fox Sports 1.
If the Lady Bears win, it would mark the program’s fourth consecutive Big 12 regular season championship.