DALLAS — The No. 1 Lady Bears saw their season come to an end Monday night at the American Airlines Center in Dallas to No. 2 Oregon State, 60-57.
“Any loss is tough, but I guess you can say this one hurts a little bit more because it’s three times in a row,” junior forward Nina Davis said. “We played hard. I can’t say it was lack of effort. We fell short by one and any loss is just always tough.”
After winning their matchup in the sweet sixteen against Florida State, the Lady Bears (36-2) aimed to take that momentum with them against the Beavers (29-4), but inexperience took its toll on the Lady Bears.
“I thought they saw two of the best defensive teams in women’s basketball just battle their butts off,” said head coach Kim Mulkey. “I thought our kids played extremely hard. I thought we got off to a bad start. You cannot miss that many free-throws and win a ball game at this level. We missed 8 free-throws and you lost by 3. You knew they were going to make 3’s. I thought in the first half inexperience on the defensive end in communicating when they hit some of those threes was a big factor.”
Both teams battled to take early control, however it was the No. 2 Beavers (28-4) that were the first to strike.
Shooting lights out from behind the arc, the Lady Bears struggled to communicate to shut the Beaver’s down.
“We knew coming into the game that they had great shooters,” Davis said. “We knew their guards could shoot lights out and the they pretty much did that the first half. We gave them some open shots, but they also made some great shots and we were contesting the ball.”
With the Lady Bears shooting at 26.7 percent from the floor in the first compared to the Beaver’s 31.3 percent, they found themselves down early as they struggled to get any momentum on the offensive end.
Going into the second the Lady Bears continued to struggle to stop the Beavers in transition, but were able to keep things close.
With the frustration showing and down 23-18, Mulkey received a technical foul after throwing her jacket.
Down six with 2:53 remaining in the half, the Lady Bears, a free throw made by Prince, followed by a layin by freshman forward Kalani Brown, forced Oregon State head coach Scott Rueck to call a timeout.
Coming off the timeout the Lady Bears forced a shot clock violation, which in turn led to a made jump shot by Jones put the Lady Bears back within one.
“We made adjustments,” Mulkey said. “I used up my time outs quickly trying to make sure they didn’t stay in a flow. I was calling time outs so they wouldn’t go down there and just take ’em off balance.”
With the Beavers looking to halt any momentum the Lady Bears had, they came down to drain a three and capitalize on two free throws and would end the half on top of the Lady Bears, 34-25 as senior guard Jamie Weisner came down and nailed a three at the buzzer for the Beavers.
Trailing at the half, which was an unfamiliar position for the Lady Bears, they had but only one choice, to fight back.
With a stop on the defensive end to start things off, Jones came down to nail a three, followed by a jump shot to put the Lady Bears back within four.
Junior forward Khadijiah Cave brought the crowd on their feet as she stole the ball to bring the Lady Bears back within one, 42-41.
“We made adjustments at halftime, I thought Khadijiah Cave gave us big-time minutes battling in there as small as she is,” Mulkey said.
Senior center Ruth Hamblin hushed the Baylor crowd as she made a layup, but Jones answered right back on the other end with a reverse layup.
Hustling on both ends of the floor the Lady Bears found themselves down only 48-47, as the began to take the momentum from the Beavers.
With 10 minutes left in regulation, the Lady Bears season goal of making it past the Elite Eight was within grasp.
A layup by Davis with the assist from Jones allowed the Lady Bears to regain the lead, 51- 50.
Weisner who had produced all night for the Beavers hit two free throws to put her team back on top.
“A lot of credit to them. We had a lot of chances during that 4-minute period of time where we came down and missed a lot of easy lay-ups at the same time. I mean, they were hitting clutch shots,” Jones said. “We was playing some defense. They were just hitting clutch shots in our face.”
However, Brown answered right back with a spin move under the basket to tie the game back up at 53 halfway through the fourth quarter.
With the game tied at 55 with just under four, Beaver junior guard Gabriella Hanson nailed a shot as the shot clock expired to give the Beavers the lead again, but Jones responded to tie things up.
“I thought the fourth scorer for them, Hanson, you can’t let the fourth scorer score. You got your hands full with the three that you know about, but when you let that fourth one score then you’re going to be in for a long night,” Mulkey said.
With 40.6 seconds the crowd stood to cheer on their teams as the game remained tied at 57.
With the Lady Bears having to foul, Sydney Wiese capitalized on three made free throws to put the Beavers up 60-57.
With seconds reaming, Johnson put a last second shot, but was off the mark.
As the Lady Bears saw their season come to an end, they could only look forward to what lies ahead.
“It’s been a great season, you know. It’s been a long one. I couldn’t be more proud of this team. We didn’t reach our goal of making it to the Final Four, but a lot of teams don’t make it to the Elite Eight,” Davis said. “It was only 80 teams and we was one of those, and we will never take that for granted. We are going to get back in the gym and get over this eventually and try and get ready for next year.”