By DJ Ramirez | Sports Writer
OKLAHOMA CITY – Baylor women’s basketball put an end to Kansas State’s championship tournament run and their six-game winning streak with an 88-60 victory in the semifinal match of the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship Tournament on Sunday afternoon.
The Lady Bears keep setting record as their 54 rebounds were the most in a semifinal and fourth-most in a single game of a championship. The 29 points they scored in the third quarter were the most in a semifinal and third most all-time at the championship and their 22 offensive boards were also a semifinal record and tied for fifth all-time.
Senior center Kalani Brown scored a game-high 24 points, was 4-for-4 in free throws and made 10-of-14 field goals for the Lady Bears. Junior forward Lauren Cox notched a double-double of 18 points and 15 rebounds and was close to recording a triple-double with eight assists. Junior guard Juicy Landrum was right behind Brown in points with 19 and hit three of Baylor’s three-point shots. Grad guard Chloe Jackson also reached double digits with 10 points. Cox said she was trying to be aggressive at the basket.
“I was trying to be aggressive going to the basket and my shots weren’t falling, but the refs were calling fouls and I was knocking down my free throws and being aggressive on the glass and attacking it,” Cox said.
With a few jumpers and 3-pointers, K-State managed to take an early lead, but Brown put the Lady Bears on the board with two free throws and cut into the Wildcats lead with some layups in the paint, assisted by Cox. Didi Richards was fouled twice in less than a minute but was 1-for-4 in her free throws. K-State extended their lead by six points, but Baylor continued to chip away with a fast break layup by Landrum off a defensive rebound by Cox.
A minute later, Landrum converted another layup in the paint assisted by sophomore guard Moon Ursin. Brown then tied the score at 16 with a layup in the paint. Kayla Goth retook a brief lead for the Wildcats, but Landrum hit a three to put Baylor ahead by one. With 51 seconds left in the period, Brown hit another layup in the paint to extend Baylor’s lead and the Lady Bears never looked back. With K-State coming in hot, head coach Kim Mulkey said she told her team to “weather the storm” during a timeout late in the first quarter.
“You keep playing good defense,” Mulkey said. “You keep running the floor, shooters will fatigue. Usually you lose your legs first when you shoot a lot of perimeter shots like that. Just stay with your defense and weather the storm.”
Brown opened it up for the Lady Bears in the second quarter with a layup in the paint but then garnered her second foul of the game, prompting Mulkey to send in freshman forward Aquira DeCosta. With Brown on the bench all the attention turned to Cox and her imposing 6-foot-4 frame. Cox scored the first of her 10 points in the second, nine of them free throws. Jackson brought Baylor up to 39 points with a jumper and then Wildcats freshman guard Christianna Carr cut the lead to 10 on two free throws. Freshman guard NaLyssa Smith was fouled after a defensive rebound after which she took a Cox rebound for a layup in the paint. A foul and a turnover prompted Kansas State head coach Jeff Mittie and the Wildcats’ bench to respond earning them a technical foul and giving Cox two free throw shots. Cox missed both shots but had another opportunity as she was fouled by Carr five seconds later to give the Lady Bears an 18-point lead at the half. Mittie said that Baylor is a difficult team score against.
“We went into this game trying to keep Kalani off the left block and that’s easier said than done, and they put Landrum on the same side and to squeeze that Landrum knocks down three,” Mittie said. “You have to pick your poison with them and they’re very, very good.”
Cox continued strong in the third quarter, scoring the rest of her points, including a three-point shot a little less than a minute and a half into the second half. Baylor built up their lead as they held K-State to a three-minute scoring drought. Just like in Saturday’s game against Texas Tech, it seemed as if the bench would close out the game, but the starters hit the court again with Brown scoring her last six points in the last quarter.
Things seemed to heat up between Brown and Wildcats redshirt junior Jasauen Beard as they both earned technical fouls with six minutes left in the game. Brown had blocked a shot by Beard and gained the rebound. Beard fouled out but it was only Brown’s third infraction, so she remained in the game for a while longer. Jackson and Landrum then went into back-to-back fast breaks to bring the Lady Bears up to 82 points. Brown hit a layup assisted by Cox and was fouled less than a minute later as both teams battled for the rebound. After hitting both free throws, Brown exited the game and Smith entered. The bench hit the court once more for the last two minutes with freshman guard Honesty Scott-Grayson icing a jumper at the 54 second mark.
Baylor once again dominated with 53 points in the paint and has eight fast breaks. They also scored 14 points off of turnovers and 19 second chance points.
The Lady Bears will make their ninth consecutive appearance in a Big 12 Tournament final against Iowa State at 8 p.m. on Monday night.
Brown said she’s excited for the young players on the team to experience as big a game as this championship.
“I’m pumped. I’m excited, playing for another championship. That never gets old,” Brown said. “I’m excited for our freshman to experience a big game like this. They haven’t had one in a long time.”