Conference play started out very different from how it ended for the Baylor Lady Bears. Senior guard Niya Johnson was absent in Baylor’s first game.
The Lady Bears ended up losing that game to Oklahoma State. After that, Baylor completely swept the Big 12.
After losing their first Big 12 game of the season, the Lady Bears stormed back to take the Big 12 regular title and then win the 2016 Phillips 66 Big 12 Women’s Basketball Championship in Oklahoma City, Okla., last week.
To cap off the Big 12 season, the Lady Bears finished with a 20-game winning streak.
“This gives us a lot of confidence,” said junior forward Nina Davis. “I feel like we’re all coming together as a team, and what better way to end the next chapter than to end with a win in the championship.”
The Longhorns remained close early on and only trailed by three to end the first quarter.
Struggling on the offensive end, the Longhorns shot at just 39 percent overall and 1-for-8 from outside the arc.
“Defense is something we take a lot of pride in,” Davis said. “We wanted to focus on the defense and let our offense come to us, and it worked out for us.”
Fighting their way back, the Longhorns closed the gap to one, 18-17 in the second quarter, but the Lady Bears were too much for the Longhorns to handle.
Going into the half up by 11, Baylor had the momentum going into the third quarter where they took a 17-point lead.
Although they were outscored in the fourth quarter, Texas’ effort was too late. Baylor’s lead was too large and the Lady Bears went on to win, 79-63.
Junior guard Alexis Jones earned the Most Outstanding Player award after finishing with 16 points and eight assists while in route to help her team get passed the Longhorns, 79-63.
Jones also put up 19 points and 11 assists in the semi-final matchup against Oklahoma.
“I didn’t want to miss the shot, to be honest,” Jones said. “So I pump-faked and held my follow-through.”
“She can do things with a basketball that a lot of girls can’t do,” said head coach Kim Mulkey. “It’s taken a while for her to not overpass and for her to learn her teammates. Some of them can’t catch those passes. She can score anytime she wants, but to watch her assist-to-turnover ratio improve – it makes her an overall complete player.”
As a No. 1 seed, the Lady Bears will be back in action at the Ferrell Center 5 p.m. Friday where they will host No. 16 Idaho in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Baylor’s men’s basketball team closed out the Big 12 Conference season over the weekend with a strong showing at the Big 12 tournament in Kansas City, Mo.
The No. 5-seeded Bears (22-11, 10-8) picked up an upset win over No. 4 seed Texas before falling to No. 1 seed Kansas in the semifinals.
Baylor came prepared against the Longhorns (20-12, 11-7), whom they split the season series with, taking a 38-27 lead into halftime after a buzzer-beating three from freshman guard Jake Lindsey.
“It was all about bringing intensity and doing whatever we had to do to keep the team alive and in the moment,” senior forward Taurean Prince said.
The Bears dominated the glass, out-rebounding Texas 46-27 while also locking down on the defensive end and holding the Longhorns to 38 percent shooting.
Prince led Baylor on offense, posting his ninth career double-double with 24 points and a season high 13 rebounds.
“Anytime you’re playing Texas, it means a lot to our fans, and it means a lot to us,” head coach Scott Drew said. “Let alone, it’s a Big 12 tournament, and you’re playing for a chance to win the championship.”
With a win in the quarterfinals, Drew earned his 250th game as head coach of the Bears as they advanced to play No. 1-ranked Kansas on Friday.
In the first half, Baylor carried over their defensive success from the previous game, holding the Jayhawks to a season low 21 points.
Lindsey drained a three-pointer at the buzzer for the second straight game to give the Bears a two point halftime lead.
However, the Jayhawks found their offensive rhythm in the second half, going up by as many as 16 points before Kansas head coach Bill Self removed his starters from the game.
Baylor didn’t give up, though, going on an unbelievable 18-5 run in the final two minutes to pull within four points of the No. 1-seeded Jayhawks.
“I think it gives us confidence that we’re never out of a game,” sophomore guard Al Freeman said. “Everybody has to be bought in and know that it’s a 40-minute game. It’s not a 38-minute game, not a 37-minute game, it’s a 40-minute game.”
Self put his starters back in with 23 seconds left, and the veteran Kansas players were able to make their free throws and win the game, 70-66.
“The game’s not over until the horn sounds,” senior point guard Lester Medford said. “This just gets us prepared for the NCAA tournament, for close games, because we’ve been in a lot of close games.
In the end, the Bears were unable to overcome their own mistakes, turning the ball over 13 times and missing 11 free throws in what could have been a much closer game.
Baylor was awarded with a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament and will face No. 12 seed Yale at 1:40 p.m. Thursday in Providence, R.I.