By Harper Mayfield | Sports Writer
Baylor’s final game of the season was a strong 96-73 win over No. 17 West Virginia. The Lady Bears finished as the No. 1 seed in the Big 12 and now have plenty of time to prepare for the Big 12 tournament.
Despite the big win, head coach Kim Mulkey felt that the evening was a tough one.
“It was a tough game for me as a coach. It was a tough game for Mike [Carey, WVU head coach],” Mulkey said. “Neither one of us understood why we had to play this game. It’s just tough. [West Virginia] is second in the Big 12 in seeding, and no matter what happens, win or lose, everything looks to be pretty set. It was a very difficult game.”
Junior center Queen Egbo led the way for Baylor with 26 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks. Junior forward NaLyssa Smith, normally a box score monster for the Lady Bears, got in foul trouble early, keeping her time on the floor limited. In her absence, Egbo’s performance was key for the Lady Bears.
On the perimeter, guard DiJonai Carrington put forward 20 points of her own, in addition to 10 rebounds and two assists. Baylor took it to the rim early and often against the Mountaineers, making good on 21 of their 30 free throw attempts. That strength around the cup kept the West Virginia defense honest and ultimately fouled out two Mountaineer starters. As nice as Egbo’s stat line was, she was quick to credit her teammates for her success.
“I just feel like my guards were able to get me the ball when I was open,” Egbo said. “They put me in a good position to just score offensively and be successful and not do too much out of my area. I was real comfortable. They made me comfortable. We were feeding off each other.”
The first quarter was a hotly contested one, as neither team could get much of a lead. Baylor made the most of a physical style of play, getting six shots at the stripe in the first. In such a close quarter, those easy buckets at the line mattered even more.
Both teams showed up to play defensively, and it showed in the turnover column. Baylor had six turnovers in the first, and West Virginia gave it away eight times. On the positive side of things, senior guard DiDi Richards moved up the Baylor all-time ranks in assists, and now sits in sole possession of third place on the all time list, behind only Odyssey Sims and Niya Johnson. At the end of one, Baylor led 17-14.
The second quarter remained competitive, but the Lady Bears were able to stretch their lead out some. The second quarter saw improved shooting from the field, with Baylor connecting on over 52% of their shots from the floor. Down 28-23 with five minutes and 17 seconds left in the half, Baylor didn’t give in. The Lady Bears went on an 11-0 run in just over three minutes of play, putting themselves up six with two and a half minutes left before halftime. That run was too much for WVU to overcome in the half, and Baylor went to the locker room up 41-35.
A strong third quarter helped keep Baylor in the driver’s seat despite star forward Smith finding herself in foul trouble. Even without Smith on the floor, the Lady Bears still excelled.
Egbo had a strong quarter, as did Carrington. West Virginia drew as close as five at points in the third, but Baylor perseverance paid off. Baylor utilized their strong inside presence to secure eight offensive rebounds, which would lead to eight second-chance points.
That inside presence was also seen in their 16 points in the painted area, double what West Virginia was able to produce in the third. Looking to close strong, Baylor went to the fourth ahead 65-57.
The final quarter saw Baylor build its largest lead of the game. The Lady Bears got hot from the field, hitting almost 56% of their shots, as well as half of their attempts from beyond the arc.
An 8-0 run to start the quarter gave Baylor an early advantage, and a 7-0 run to close the game finished off the Mountaineers. The Lady Bears continued to get to the line at a high rate in the final quarter, converting on nine of their 11 free throw attempts. As the final buzzer sounded, Baylor closed off the regular season with a 96-73 win.
The next time the Lady Bears see the court will be for the Big 12 championship tournament in Kansas City, from March 11-14. Baylor is the top seed in the bracket, having won the conference in the regular season. Three tournament wins would secure a Big 12 tournament championship for Baylor and potentially a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.