Story by Nathan Keil | Sports Editor, Video by Elisabeth Tharp | Broadcast Reporter
Opening the NCAA Tournament for the first time in three years without a No.1 next to their names, the second-seeded Lady Bears made a statement early and often, easily disposing of No. 15 Grambling State 96-46 to advance to Sunday’s second round.
Baylor overwhelmed the visiting Lady Tigers with its length and size in the post and its athleticism and ability to defend on the perimeter. Six feet-four-inch sophomore post Lauren Cox and six-feet-seven-inch junior center Kalani Brown were simply too much for a smaller Grambling State team to handle.
Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey said her post players are unique and special talents that create issues for everyone in the country with their skillsets.
“Those two kids, Cox and Brown, they’re a special talent,” Mulkey said. “There’s a difference between playing against height and playing against talented height. I don’t’ know if there many girls in the country that are 6’7 and can play as well as Kalani and then you look at what Cox brings to the table. You have to guard her on the perimeter. She can shoot the three and that just helps Kalani one on one in the paint. Those kids are a special duo and I get to be the lucky one to coach them.”
Cox set a new career-high with 30 points and fell two rebounds shy of tying her career high as she finished with 17 boards. Brown also finished with a double-double, contributing 22 points and 15 rebounds on nine of 14 from the floor.
“A big part of it obviously was our size advantage,” Cox said. “I was just able to catch it on the block, turn and face and shoot over them. Me and Kalani are going to be a matchup disaster for some teams. You have to focus on one of us and when you focus on the other, the one is going to go off.”
It wasn’t just the two post players that helped dominate the Lady Tigers on the boars. Baylor outrebounded Grambling State 60-26, including 22 the offensive end, converting them into 30 second chance points.
On the perimeter, the length and athleticism of senior guard Dekeia Cohen, who finished with 17 points and nine rebounds, and a combination of sophomore Juicy Landrum and freshman Alexis Morris that consistently put pressure on the Grambling State guards forced them into taking tough, contested three-point jumpshots or to drive into the lane where the Lady Bears blocked 11 shots.
Grambling State junior guard Shakyla Hill entered the game, averaging 17 points per game. The Lady Bears frustrated Hill all night, holding her to just 10 points on three of 18 shooting from the floor. Hill did not convert her first field goal attempt until the 4:31 mark of the third quarter.
“It was very tough. If anybody has ever seen me play, they know I can normally get to the cup with ease,” Hill said. “I did do that tonight still, but because they were still so much bigger, taller and longer, it wasn’t as easy as it normally is. We didn’t give up and I didn’t change anything that I did, I just kept going.”
As a team, Baylor held Grambling State to just 25 percent from the floor and 19 percent from beyond the arc as the Lady Tigers connected on just five of 26 attempts.
The Lady Bears raced out of the gate fast, smothering Grambling State and utilizing Cox and Brown in the post as they scored the first six points of the game and built a 17-1 lead early.
Grambling State did not convert its first field goal until freshman forward Alexus Williams converted a layup at 3:30 mark of the first quarter. But the Lady Bears responded with a 10-2 run to go up 27-6 after one quarter.
Lady Tigers’ junior forward Jazmin Boyd started heating up in the second quarter, knocking down two long distance jumpers to try to keep Grambling State in the game, but the Lady Bears were just too much extending the lead to 26 at 45-19 at the break.
Boyd finished with a team-high 20 points for the Lady Tigers.
The Lady Bears remained aggressive in the second half, receiving contributions from Cohen, Landrum and freshmen forward Didi Richards and guard Moon Ursin. Landrum finished with eight points and six rebounds, Richards had six points and Ursin finished with four points and three rebounds.
Baylor even saw its two managers get a chance to play the final minute as both Michelle Kahue and Darrlyn McDonough saw their first bit of NCAA Tournament action.
“That’s a feel-good story. They just played in their first NCAA Tournament and those memories will last them a lifetime,” Mulkey said.
No. 2 Baylor will meet No. 7 Michigan, who defeated No. 10 Northern Colorado 75-61, at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at the Ferrell Center.