No. 1 seed Lady Bears advance to Sweet 16 of NCAA tournament

Photo credit: Penelope Shirey

The No. 1 seed Lady Bears team cruised past a physical No. 9 seed Auburn team Sunday night at the Ferrell Center in route to a spot in the Sweet 16 for the eighth consecutive year.

“I hate to even use the word bench, but I’m only allowed to play five at a time,” said head coach Kim Mulkey. “I have about nine starters. That’s how you win championships; everyone has to be focused and clicking at the same time.”

The Lady Bears (35-1) were coming off a decisive victory Friday night against No. 16 Idaho, but knew that they were going to have to play their game if they wanted to get past the Tiger’s (20-13) who were coming off a win against No. 8 seed St. John.

Forty-one seconds in, junior guard Alexis Jones with the assist from senior guard Niya Johnson hit a open shot from behind the arc to put the Lady Bears up early.

“We have never had a team that pressed us for the full 40 minutes, we just had to take care of the ball. Jones said. “We did exactly what our game plan was set up for.”

With freshman forward Kalani Brown coming in early in the first quarter for freshman forward Beatrice Mompremier, a quick offensive board put back followed by Johnson capitalizing on an offensive rebound led allowed the Lady Bears to get a quick 9-2 lead.

Mulkey said the bench in the first half “never missed a beat.”

With the momentum in the Lady Bears hands, Tiger head coach Terri Williams-Flournoy was forced to call the team’s first timeout with just over six minutes remaining the in the first.

Coming off the timeout, Brown used her size advantage in the paint to hit back-to-back layups.

Double-team defense by the Tigers worked to no avail as the Lady Bears continued to find the open player.

An alley oop by Johnson to Davis put the crowd on their feet as the Lady Bears went up 17-2.

Davis was the rock for the Lady Bears today, scoring 30 points, seven rebounds, and two block.

It felt great,” Davis said. “But I still owe all the credit to my team today…we were sharing the ball and that’s what makes us so hard to guard.”

Shooting at 58.8 percent from the field compared to the Tiger’s 27.3 percent, the Lady Bears found themselves up 23-8 to end the first.

With the Lady Bears continuing with the momentum, Davis went 5-5 from the foul line in the second to help extend their lead.

Another nailed three by Jones to put the Lady Bears up 41-16

As Auburn found themselves over the limit, the Lady Bears capitalized from the line and entered the half on top, 46-20.

Coming back from the break, the Lady Bears started off the second half a bit shaky, but went back on track after a steal by Johnson to Davis followed by back to back lay ins by Brown extended their lead 56-27.

“Well it started off with preparation,” Johnson said. “Just limit turnover overall and Nina finding gaps. We were just able to execute tonight.”

A three by sophomore guard Kristy Wallace followed by a block by Davis gave the Lady Bears their momentum back.

Tiger junior forward Katie Ferking made a quick 6 points to give her team a much needed lift, but it was not enough to take away the momentum from the Lady Bears as Davis came down to finish on an and one.

However, a half court, buzzer beater shot by freshman guard Janiah McKay allowed the Tiger’s to end the third on a positive note although still trailing the Lady Bears, 68-39.

“Baylor is a very good team, there is a reason they are 35-1 now,” Flournoy said. “We are always going to play hard until the last zero on the clock.”

With 10 minutes remaining in regulation, the Lady Bears looked to poised to claiming their spot in the Sweet 16, but the Tiger’s were not going to go down without a fight.

The Lady Bears continued to dominate in the paint outscoring the Tigers in there, 42-26.

“We couldn’t be more excited just to go down the road an hour away,” Davis said. “We know that it is going to sort of be like home court advantage and we are just excited to play.”

With the Lady Bears advancing to the regional round in Dallas, they found themselves one step closer to a national championship as they took the win 84-52.

The Lady Bears will play either No. 5 seed Florida State or No. 4 seed Texas A&M Saturday in Dallas.