By Jeffrey Swindoll
OKLAHOMA CITY – The Lady Bears won their fourth straight Big 12 tournament title Monday night after beating the West Virginia Mountaineers 74-71. Baylor was led by freshman forward Nina Davis, the youngest player in the starting lineup, in a back-and-forth, physical title game thriller that saw nine lead changes.
Monday’s game was reminiscent of the game in Waco a week ago against the same West Virginia team. The Lady Bears lost that game after senior guard Odyssey Sims turned the ball over with the lead and missed the go-ahead shot in the final seconds of the game. The very same situation played out on Monday– Sims had the ball at half court, the shot clock and game clock shared a five second difference and 32 seconds remained in regulation.
Only this time, Sims did not turn the ball over. Sims passed the ball to sophomore guard Niya Johnson who was fouled on her way to the basket. The Lady Bears took a three-point lead after Johnson sunk both clutch free throws.
WVU came down and tried to make a three as time expired to force overtime, but it bounced off the back iron of the rim. The buzzer sounded and the Lady Bears players and fans erupted in euphoric jubilation.
Sims only played 10 minutes in the first half after suffering what appeared to be a minor foot injury. She returned to the floor in that half, but struggled to make shots, only scoring one basket.
The scoring responsibilities had to be taken by the younger players- Johnson and Davis. Johnson scored a career high 19 points, tied for Baylor’s most points and shot 5-for-5 from the free throw line.
“I know you guys don’t believe this, but [Johnson] scored 50 points in a high school ballgame,” Mulkey said. “Niya can score, she just has a point guard’s mentality: Pass first, score second. You don’t score 50 in high school if you can’t score.”
Sims responded with a strong performance in the second half, and ended the game tied with Johnson for the most points, shooting 6-for-14.
”Give credit to our bench players,” Sims said. “I think they come in, they gave us the spark that we needed when our starters weren’t doing anything.”
Davis was named tournament MVP after the game and led her team in scoring for two of of Baylor’s three games in the tournament.
“Coming into the year it definitely wasn’t my focus [to be a standout freshman] so I didn’t expect I would be where I am now and getting MVP,” Davis said. It’s just a feeling that I can’t describe.”
Mulkey has experienced the championship confetti several times before this one, but each team and championship she has been a part of has a special place in her heart.
”I don’t ever take [winning a championship] for granted,” Mulkey said. “In this business, it’s a cold business. Coaches get fired this time of year. I’m as good as those kids in that locker room, as good as those coaches that recruit for me, and you keep it in perspective. [As a coach] you’re excited, and one day you’ll look back and go, wow, we made a pretty good run there, six out of the last 10 tourney championships; that’s hard to do.”
Mulkey expects her Lady Bears to be high seed, possibly a number one seed or the NCAA tournament in a couple weeks.
”We won another conference title, and then we won another tourney title, and let’s hope in the NCAAs we get a good seed and see if we can’t go pretty deep in the tournament,” Mulkey said.
Right now, the Lady Bears have the sweet taste of victory in their mouths. The NCAA tournament seeding is yet to be determined, but Mulkey and the Lady Bears will go right back to work after shortly celebrating another conference tournament championship.