By DJ Ramirez | Sports Writer
OKLAHOMA CITY – The Baylor women’s basketball team earned its 10th Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship title, combining for 20 titles between the tournament and the regular season in the Kim Mulkey era. The No. 1-seeded Lady Bears defeated No. 2 seeded Iowa State 67-49 on Monday night in a highly physical, high-stakes match.
As always, Baylor’s key to success was its defense. According to Mulkey, Iowa State came into the game with a different game than they usually play, largely due to the way the Lady Bears are known to defend.
“When you describe an Iowa State team the first thing you say is you must defend the three. They only made three threes tonight, so their game plan was a little bit different,” Mulkey said. “Why was it different? I have to give credit to our kids and their effort on the defense end of the floor. We change people’s approach to the basket because of our defense.”
Senior center Kalani Brown was named Most Outstanding Player for the second straight year, scoring 17 points against the Cyclones and led the tournament with 55 points over three games.
Junior forward Lauren Cox, the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, was named to the Big 12 All-Tournament Team and was the leading rebounder with 29 rebounds.
Iowa State head coach Bill Fennelly said that he wouldn’t be surprised if Cox was named preseason Player of the Year as a senior.
“I mean she’s obviously going to be their preseason Player of the Year in our league next year,” Fennelly said. “Her ability to do other things at that size and length just adds so much to their team that I don’t know another team in the country that has that.”
Grad guard Chloe Jackson was right behind Brown with 16 points and scored the final jumper for the Lady Bears in the fourth quarter in front of the Baylor bench, prompting a spirited response from her teammates.
Where Iowa State outscored the Lady Bears 19-18 in the third quarter, Baylor hit turbo speed in the fourth, holding the Cyclones to five points while they scored 19.
The Lady Bears held a 12-point lead in the first quarter, but Iowa State began to put pressure on Baylor with layups in the paint from Cyclone seniors Bridget Carleton and Alexa Middleton, cutting the lead down to five points.
Both teams scored 12 points each in the second period. Iowa State tied the score three times within the span of two minutes. Middleton hit a three to tie the game at 18 at the 8:14 mark but a jumper by freshman forward NaLyssa Smith allowed Baylor to retake a two-point lead. A jumper by Cyclones senior forward Meredith Burkhall retied the game at 20. Smith once again retook the lead with a layup, and when Iowa State tied it at 22, she tipped in an offensive rebound to make the score 24-22 in favor of Baylor. After a scoreless two minutes, Smith made a layup and the Lady Bears began to pull away. Jumpers by Brown and Jackson gave Baylor a five-point lead going into the half.
The Cyclones once again managed to catch up to the Lady Bears in the third, tying the game at 37 with a layup by freshman guard Ashley Joens. A jumper by Cox and a layup by junior guard Juicy Landrum gave Baylor a little bit of a cushion, but Burkhall and Carleton had jumpers in the paint to tie it at 41. Brown was then fouled twice within the span of 24 seconds for three good free throws and assisted sophomore guard Didi Richards in a fast break layup.
The Lady Bears entered the fourth quarter with a four-point lead, but with renewed energy, they went on a run. Brown made a layup assisted by sophomore guard Moon Ursin a minute and fifteen seconds into the period. Richards then recorded the first of her four steals and passed it to Jackson who assisted Cox for a layup. Ursin made a steal and was fouled on for a free throw. After jumpers by Jackson and Brown, Richards made another steal to give Jackson a fast break layup.
Cox said that Baylor’s defense was able to wear down the Cyclones which allowed for some steals and runs.
“I think we locked down on defense. We started getting steals, getting out and running and I think that eventually wore them out,” Cox said.
With less than a minute left in the fourth, Jackson hit the jumper that iced the win for the Lady Bears and the freshmen were sent in to run out the clock in the final minute.
Baylor had 42 points in the paint, 20 points off turnovers, six second chance points and eight fast break points.
The Lady Bears now have their eyes set on the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament. According to Brown, it’s the next item on their list.
“We set goals in the beginning of the season. This was pretty much the final little mini goal before we make our run for the NCAA Tournament,” Brown said. “So, I think that’s the only thing we haven’t checked off our list is the Final Four, and if anything, winning tonight should make our team more focused.”