By Nathan Keil | Sports Reporter
On a night where Baylor unveiled three new banners commemorating the Lady Bears’ Big 12 regular season and tournament championships, as well as its sixth Elite Eight appearance, Baylor used a big second half surge en route to a 84-70 victory over the visiting UCLA Bruins.
It may only be November, but the atmosphere at the Ferrell Center felt like late March as both teams gave the crowd plenty to cheer for.
“These good, non-conference games challenge us, so when we get back to the playoffs, when we get back to the Elite Eight, we’ve been in situations where we’ve been behind, where we’ve competed,” said head coach Kim Mulkey. “We’ve made some decisions in the course of the game, and that’s why we’re playing them all on the road this year. All those games on the schedule are because we’ve got four seniors and a bunch of underclassmen that can play, so when we get that opportunity to go back to the playoffs, we’re not afraid to embrace the moment and go make plays.”
The ninth-ranked Bruins showed fews signs of intimidation as they jumped out to an early 13-6 lead against the second-ranked Lady Bears. In building the early advantage, the Bruins applied heavy defensive pressure and forced the Lady Bears into four early turnovers, which led to six points on the offensive end.
As the first quarter progressed, the Lady Bears began to find their groove on the offensive end as redshirt senior guard Alexis Jones scored nine early points. Jones would finish the night with 15 points and six assists.
The second quarter belonged to the Bruins as Jones went to the bench with two personal fouls. Without their senior leader, the Lady Bears fell prey to sloppy turnovers and lackluster defense. The Bruins also caught fire from the three-point range on their way to a 48-41 lead at halftime.
Mulkey had the Lady Bears looking like a completely different time after the intermission.
“I talked to them about the threes. I encouraged them,” Mulkey said. “If they can shoot like that again, then they’ll win the game. Not only did our defense pick up the intensity, we just had better position.”
They relied heavily on Jones to penetrate into the paint and either take the layup or look for sophomore post Kalani Brown for easy shots, depending on whether the Bruins defense helped out on her.
UCLA had no answer for Brown who continually picked apart the smaller Bruin defenders in the post. She finished with a game high 25 points and 19 rebounds, including 11 in the third quarter as the Lady Bears seized control of the game.
“Her line doesn’t surprise me at all. She’s an incredible player,” said senior forward Nina Davis. “She’s put in the work in the off season, and it’s all coming together for her.”
Baylor also found much more balance on the offensive end in the second half. Redshirt senior guard Alexis Prince and Davis each chipped in with 15 points for the Lady Bears.
The Lady Bears defense suffocated the Bruins in the second half, holding UCLA to just 22 second-half points and, after allowing six first-half three-point field goals, the Bruins were shut out in the second half.
As the defensive intensity picked up, so did the transition and second chance opportunities for the Lady Bears. Baylor dominated the glass, out-rebounding UCLA 52 to 25, including 20 offensive rebounds that led to 26 second-chance points.
UCLA’s junior guard Jordin Canada did all she could to keep the Bruins within striking distance, finishing with 23 points. Junior forward Monique Billings and senior guard Kari Korver also finished in double figures for the Bruins, with 16 and 13 points respectively. After contributing 23 points in the first half, the pair was limited to just six in the second half.
“Credit to Baylor. They out-toughed us in the second half,” said UCLA head coach Cori Close. “They knew exactly how who they wanted to get touches and Brown was a handful in the post. They showed great experience and poise, and I hope to play them again.”
Baylor improves to 2-0 on the season as they collect an important resume boosting win over the ninth-ranked Bruins. The Lady Bears will now travel to take on Geno Auriemma and the four-time defending National Champion Connecticut Huskies, who currently sit third in the rankings just behind Mulkey’s Lady Bears. UCLA drops to 1-1 and return to Pauley Pavilion on Friday to take on Southern University.
Tipoff between the Lady Bears and Huskies is set for 6:30 p.m. Thursday and the game will be aired on ESPN3.