By Max Calderone | Sports Writer
The No. 2 Baylor Lady Bears won the 2018 Phillips 66 Big 12 Women’s Basketball Championship on Monday, defeating No. 8 Texas 77-69.
With a shallow bench and short rotation, it was an all hands on deck effort as junior center Kalani Brown collected 20 points and eight rebounds, sophomore forward Lauren Cox went for 13 points and 12 boards and freshman guard Alexis Morris put on a show, dropping 19 points.
Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey said Morris was a huge key to their success and the x-factor in the ballgame tonight.
“A freshman point guard that everybody across the country was waiting to see fail,” Mulkey said. “The kid can play. The kid is outstanding. She learns everyday from Kristy Wallace. She’s going to make mistakes, but if you’re going to make mistakes aren’t you glad you’ve got Cox and Brown inside.”
The trio of Lady Bears were each named to the Big 12 Championship All-Tournament Team, with Brown winning Most Outstanding Player honors.
The game was back and forth all night, with Baylor trailing the Longhorns 12-7 early on. But Brown hit a layup at the 5:40 mark in the first quarter to spark an 8-0 run for the Lady Bears.
Texas junior guard Lashann Higgs converted an and-one layup attempt to knot things at 15 apiece, but Cox nailed a jumper with just six seconds remaining to give Baylor a 19-18 lead after the opening period.
Back-to-back jumpers by Longhorns sophomore guard Alecia Sutton and senior guard Ariel Atkins put Texas ahead 29-25 midway through the second quarter, but the Lady Bears came roaring back with an 8-2 run to go up 33-31 with three minutes to play in the quarter.
From there, things were tight defensively as just two shots were made before halftime – a jumper from Texas junior center Jatarie White and a layup by Baylor’s Brown gave the Lady Bears a two point advantage heading into the break.
Mulkey said her message to the team at the half was to persevere and that they could make it through playing three games in three days.
“You’re not tired. We’ll rest tomorrow and the next day,” Mulkey said. “We won’t have to play another series of games back-to-back-to-back.”
Brown scored seven of her team’s 17 points in the third quarter and the Lady Bears were up 52-46 to begin the fourth quarter. Sophomore guard Juicy Landrum drilled a three to open the fourth and Baylor had it’s largest lead of the game.
That’s when Texas came fighting back, led by senior guard Brooke McCarty who connected from downtown to ignite a 9-0 Longhorns run to tie the game back up at 55-55 with 7:16 to go. McCarty had a team-high 20 points, hitting four three-pointers on the night.
With 3:35 left, Morris used a screen from Cox and nailed a huge three to put Baylor ahead 64-60. Two minutes later, Texas forward Joyner Holmes was called for a foul after fighting for a rebound with Cox and Longhorns head coach Karen Aston was hit with a technical foul after arguing the call.
Cox stepped up to the free-throw line and made the two technical shots, the two ensuing shots for the original foul call and two more with 40 seconds remaining to give Baylor a 71-64 lead. Landrum got loose from the defensive pressure on the Lady Bears’ next possession and hit an easy layup to ice the victory.
Brown said she was proud of the way her team battled and happy for the younger players who got to experience a Big 12 title.
“I’m proud of my team. We gutted it out,” Brown said. “Three games in three days with such little depth and we pulled it out. I’m proud of everybody.”
Brown, Cox and Morris each played all 40 minutes in the game.
The win marks eight of the last nine Big 12 tournament titles for Baylor. They’ll await “Selection Monday” on March 12 to see where they will be placed in the 2018 NCAA Tournament that begins on March 16.