By Jeffrey Swindoll
The No. 3 Lady Bears ran away with a thrilling 75-58 victory over longtime rivals No. 8 Texas on Sunday at the Ferrell Center. Baylor (17-1, 6-0) keeps rolling as the only undefeated team left in the Big 12 nearly halfway through the season.
Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey knew her team would be at a height disadvantage against the Longhorns’ towering frontcourt. Mulkey said after the game that she challenged her team to eliminate Texas’ control of the glass. Texas (14-3, 3-3) had yet to be out-rebounded all season before its game against the Lady Bears; that streak ended at the Ferrell Center on Sunday with the Lady Bears winning the rebound battle 41-37.
Sunday’s game was more about desire than it was about anything else, Mulkey said. Texas head coach Karen Aston was on same train of thought as Mulkey after the game in that regard.
“I just thought we played a solid game,” Mulkey said. “I said two things would be key to the game, rebounding being one of them. And the second thing was eliminating their transition offense and making them execute a halfcourt offense. There was no dominant rebounder for us today, but there was no dominant rebounder for them either. It was a team effort. I told them, ‘Don’t ever let a team out-hustle you.’”
Texas faced emotional hardship after senior forward Nneka Enemkpali fell to the floor, shrieking in pain while grasping her knee. Enemkpali writhed on the floor after landing awkwardly on her left leg following a rebound. Aston did not have a conclusive assessment on the injury, but the obvious concern is that it may be an ACL tear, and therefore a season-ending injury to one of the team’s best players, Aston said.
It was a game of runs, or “waves” as Aston put it after the game. The Lady Bears stormed out from the tip-off, going on an 8-0 run. The Ferrell Center’s raucous crowd did everything within its power to keep the Lady Bears’ momentum going, but Texas kept finding answers to Baylor, blow after blow.
Right before the end of the first half, Texas went on one of its biggest runs of the half, pulling within 3 points. Baylor responded to Texas’ 6-0 run with a 10-0 run to end the half. The Longhorns did not score a single point in the final three minutes of the first half while the Lady Bears more than tripled their lead to make it 35-22 at halftime.
“We just seemed to be going in spurts too much, no consistency and they were a team that seemed a little hungrier for the basketball and did more of the little things,” Aston said.
Enemkpali, for the most part, succeeded in guarding Baylor’s star forward sophomore Nina Davis in the first half, limiting her impact on the game. Losing Enemkpali was a crippling hit to Texas’ matchups against Baylor, specifically Davis.
Aston searched for another solution to Davis when Enemkpali checked out. Evidently, the solution could not be found on Sunday. Davis finally broke through when Enemkpali was carried off the court, eventually finishing the game with a team-leading 25 points and 6 rebounds.
Baylor’s effective guard-play from junior Niya Johnson, sophomore Imani Wright and freshman Kristy Wallace forced Texas to open up its front court, allowing players like Davis and sophomore post Khadijiah Cave to find lanes for high-percentage baskets.
“Credit to Baylor, early in the game I thought their guards came out aggressive and made some jump shots and opened some things up with them,” Aston said. “That changed the way we had to defend, which in the second half opened some things up for the post players.”
Johnson ended the night with 15 points and 12 assists. Wright also had a good night of shooting, scoring 11 points and continuing to prove her consistency as one of Mulkey’s unsung heroes, often coming off the bench to give the Lady Bears the spark they need.
It was a big-time game for the Lady Bears and they were clearly up to the task against another top-ranked team.
Next up, the Lady Bears face Kansas State at 11 a.m. on Saturday at the Ferrell Center, putting their undefeated conference record and 16-game winning streak to the test.