By Jeffrey Swindoll
The stakes keep stacking higher for the No. 3 Lady Bears. Baylor set itself apart from this season’s Big 12 Conference women’s basketball teams over the weekend. The Lady Bears are the only undefeated team remaining in the Big 12 after reaching a 9-0 league record with a 66-58 win over Kansas on Sunday at the Ferrell Center.
Controversial calls and turnovers were scattered throughout the game for both sides. The rowdy crowd at the Ferrell Center was energized by Baylor’s play, but were evidently frustrated with the referees as 43 fouls were called between the two teams.
“This was a very difficult game to coach,” Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey said. “I thought the flow was just interrupted too much. When you create 28 turnovers, you take 22 more shots than your opponent, you hold [Chelsea] Gardner and [Natalie] Knight in check, you shoot the same number of free throws, but yet you struggle to just really extend a lead and win a game, I don’t want to say ‘convincingly,’ but it was just a tough game.”
Mulkey was livid for much of the game, coming to the brink of being ejected from the game entirely. Mulkey ended up getting called for a technical foul after her argument after one call was a bit too passionate for the referee’s liking.
That same incident saw multiple Baylor players physically holding Mulkey back as she tossed and turned on the sideline, yelling in the referee’s direction. Mulkey joked after the game saying it was the most leadership her players have shown all season.
“Me and Nina [Davis] tried to hold her back and told her it’s not worth it. We needed her,” junior guard Niya Johnson said. “She would’ve gotten thrown out and added two more points to the scoreboard. We had to play it smart.”
Mulkey eventually turned her discussions with the referees down a notch, taking more of a subdued posture. The controversial call reactions had reached their threshold.
Kansas took an early lead as the Lady Bears stumbled in the first few series of plays. The Lady Bears were not on the same page, committing errant passes and poor shot decisions while Kansas executed well.
Earlier in the season, the Lady Bears faced a similar challenge after falling early to Oklahoma State. That time, the Lady Bears were down at halftime but finally broke through in the second half, winning by double-digits. This time around, the Jayhawks and the Lady Bears each traded the lead on multiple occasions in both halves. There was never any moment for either team to settle.
The Lady Bears dug themselves out of a hole with a 9-0 run to make it 12-12 with just over 10 minutes left in the first half. The lead swung back and forth until the halftime whistle, where the Lady Bears led 32-28 at the break.
Eventually, the Lady Bears’ difference was doing a better job of getting defensive stops and turning them into quick baskets on fast-breaks. The Lady Bears scored 32 total points off Kansas’ 28 turnovers. Kansas scored just nine points off Baylor’s 17 turnovers.
Davis scored her 1,000th collegiate point during her 22-point outing against the Jayhawks on Sunday. Davis is Mulkey’s 12th player ever to surpass 1,000 points.
“I think the goal is to win championships, so to score 1,000 points is a great milestone, and I am blessed, but I owe it to my coach and my teammates, but I got to think on the next game,” Davis said.
Johnson earned a double-double with 13 points and 10 assists. Johnson scuffed three turnovers in her 37 minutes of play.
“We go as [Davis and Johnson] go in a lot of respects,” Mulkey said. “Those two kids have had a great year and when those two kids are doing well it just rubs off well on everybody. They made some big shots, they made some big plays when we were on a run in the second half when they took the lead.”
Mulkey preaches that rebounding and turnovers are absolutely vital to road games. The Lady Bears have a big stretch of tough road tests on their schedule, including Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas.
Halfway through the Big 12 conference season, the Lady Bears are undefeated, but their toughest battles are still to come. It will be a fight to the finish.
The Lady Bears travel to Stillwater, Okla., to face Oklahoma State at 7 p.m. Wednesday.