No. 7 Lady Bears claim conference title outright with tough win over Texas

Junior forward, NaLyssa Smith, led the Lady Bears tonight with 23 points for the Bears in their 64-57 victory over the Longhorns to take the Big 12 outright, this is the eleventh season in a row the Lady Bears have take the Big 12 title. Cole Tompkins | Photographer

By Harper Mayfield | Sports Writer

Coming off a win to clinch a share of the Big 12 title, Baylor women’s basketball won it outright with a close victory in Austin on Monday, defeating Texas 64-57.

The Lady Bears’ effort was spearheaded by junior forward NaLyssa Smith’s 23 points and seven rebounds, as well as junior center Queen Egbo’s 13 points and 14 rebounds.

Smith has paced Baylor in scoring all season. Against UT, the junior shot 8-11 from the floor, including 2-2 from downtown and 5-5 from the charity stripe. Getting consistent scoring from the low post has benefitted Baylor all season, and it shows up in the box score. Baylor outscored Texas 34-18 in the painted area, with Smith and Egbo alone outscoring the Horns.

The first quarter was a defensive battle with Baylor shooting 33% and Texas converting on only 20% of their shot attempts. Neither team was able to generate much of a lead. There were eight lead changes in the first quarter alone, a testament to the competitive nature of the period. A pair of free throws from senior guard Moon Ursin helped give Baylor the lead going into the second, 10-9.

Almost three full minutes would pass in the start of the second before either team could take the lid off the basket. Once Baylor was able to find their rhythm, they went on a 7-2 run to help put UT at arm’s length. A bucket from grad transfer DiJonai Carrington helped put Baylor up three with 35 seconds to play in the half, keeping them ahead at the break despite a Longhorn score with five seconds remaining until intermission. At the end of two, Baylor led 24-22. After a close half, Smith noted the coaching staff was quick to make adjustments to Baylor’s strategy.

“We came into halftime, and we knew what we had to do,” Smith said. “They told us the things we had to correct. We knew the things we had to adjust, so we went into the game knowing what we had to do.”

The third quarter was a much different story. The Lady Bears came out of the gates fast, opening with a 20-4 run to push the lead to 18. That explosive offense showed up in the stat sheet too, as Baylor shot over 60% in the third, almost double their percentage from the previous two quarters. Baylor’s dominant post presence was especially evident in the game’s penultimate period, as the Lady Bears scored 18 points in the paint to Texas’s four. A disparity like that is enough to change the course of a game, and that’s exactly what head coach Kim Mulkey thought it did.

“I think we started making shots. I think we got some transition baskets,” Mulkey said. “Our post play carried us tonight.”

The fourth quarter allowed Baylor to take its foot off the gas somewhat, and try some new things on offense. Smith, traditionally a post player, was able to take her talents beyond the arc and drop in a pair of three-pointers to help stretch the floor for the Baylor offense. While that decision might seem reckless to some, Smith was 2-2 from deep, perhaps a sign of something to come from the star forward. Smith pointed out that her accuracy from long range is nothing new to her, even though it might have surprised some fans.

“I really shoot threes,” Smith said. “This is the first time y’all are seeing it though. It felt great.”

UT refused to give in. The Longhorns battled until the final buzzer, but it wasn’t enough, as Baylor returned to Waco with the win and another Big 12 crown.

The Lady Bears will be back in action at 4 p.m. Saturday in Lawrence, Kan., for a matchup with the Jayhawks. The game is set for 4 p.m. on Big 12 Now on ESPN+.