Story by Ben Everett | Sports Editor, Video by Elisabeth Tharp | Broadcast Sports Director
TAMPA, FLA. – No. 1 seed Baylor women’s basketball took down No. 2 seed Oregon 72-67 in a back-and-forth battle on Friday night in Tampa, Fla., to advance to the National Championship game to face No. 1 seed Notre Dame on Sunday.
Senior guard Chloe Jackson played hero for the Lady Bears, converting a layup with 40 seconds remaining to break a 67-67 tie and lift Baylor to the win. Jackson was just 3-for-11 on the night, but her final basket was the most important shot of the game. Jackson said she was off all night, but her team was behind her and gave her confidence.
“My teammates just did a great job scoring, picking me up basically,” Jackson said. “It was just my coaches, my teammates, kept telling me to shoot it, don’t lose confidence.”
Despite Oregon’s national semifinal record-tying 12 3-pointers, the Lady Bears hung on for the win by staying true to themselves. Baylor notched 48 points in the paint and recorded 18 assists on 31 made field goals. The Lady Bears once again out-rebounded their opponent, grabbing 38 boards compared to Oregon’s 33.
The All-American front court of Baylor led the way. Junior forward Lauren Cox notched a double-double with 21 points and 11 rebounds while senior center Kalani Brown scored a game-high 22 points while also grabbing seven rebounds. Cox also had a game-high seven assists. Brown said making the National Championship game still hasn’t sunk in.
“The feeling is unreal,” Brown said. “I’m still in shock. I’m overwhelmed. I’m just happy to be a part of this team right now.
Oregon All-American guard Sabrina Ionescu, who came into the game averaging almost 23 points per game in the NCAA Tournament, was held to 18 points on 6-for-24 shooting, primarily due to Baylor sophomore guard DiDi Richards’ on-ball defense. Mulkey said Richards has all the defensive tools and abilities you want to stop a star player.
“DiDi has length,” Mulkey said. “She’s 6’1″ out there. She’s bugging you, stripping you. She’s just active.”
Facing early adversity, Baylor battled back by sticking to its identity. Out of a timeout and trailing 11-4, the Lady Bears tightened up their defense, holding the Ducks to just four points in the final five minutes of the quarter. Meanwhile, Baylor pounded the ball inside. Cox and sophomore guard DiDi Richards combined for 10 points down the stretch, giving Baylor a 19-15 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Oregon started the second quarter on a 7-2 run, capped off by a 3-pointer from junior guard Sabrina Ionescu, to take a 22-21 lead. Baylor once again built its lead back up, but the Ducks stayed in the game with their 3-point shooting. Ionescu converted a 4-point play with seven seconds left to lift Oregon to a 34-33 halftime lead.
Oregon held a distinct perimeter shooting advantage after one half of play. The Ducks converted 6-of-15 3-pointers while the Lady Bears sat at 0-for-1 from 3-point range. While Baylor shot 48% from the field in the first half compared to Oregon’s 39%, the outside shooting proved to be the equalizer.
Oregon stayed hot in the third quarter, knocking down back-to-back 3-pointers to take a 40-37 lead. The Lady Bears continued to attack the paint, scoring eight straight points on the inside to take a 45-40 lead with 5:57 remaining in the quarter and prompt an Oregon timeout. Brown scored five straight points for the Lady Bears, and a put back by Cox in the final seconds put Baylor up 56-55 heading into the fourth quarter.
Baylor opened the final quarter with an and-one from Richards to take a four-point lead, but Oregon fought back with a 9-2 run, capped off by their 11th 3-pointer of the night, to take a 64-61 lead with six minutes remaining.
Cox stepped up in the closing minutes, scoring four points to lead the Lady Bears on a 6-0 run to take a 67-64 lead. The Ducks then tied the game on a 3-pointer by sophomore forward Satou Sabally. Jackson’s layup proved to be the difference maker and the Ducks could not convert in the final minute as the Lady Bears held on for the win.
The National Championship game will tip-off at 5 p.m. Sunday in Tampa.