By Harper Mayfield | Sports Writer
Baylor women’s basketball kicked off their Big 12 tournament run with a bang on Friday, demolishing TCU 92-55. The win has moved Baylor into the semifinals of the tournament, and one step closer to a shot at another Big 12 postseason title.
The Lady Bears got production from everywhere on the floor, as all 11 Baylor players that set foot on the court scored at least two points. Leading in the scoring column was junior forward and newly-minted Big 12 Player of the Year NaLyssa Smith. Smith had a game-high 26 points to go along with seven rebounds. Baylor also got big games from guard DiJonai Carrington and center Queen Egbo. Carrington had 17 points, five rebounds and five assists. Egbo had eight points, and also contributed 12 rebounds and six blocks. Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey was especially pleased with the game’s closing minutes, citing their value for future Big 12 and NCAA tournament matchups.
“Those minutes matter to me because you’re looking at players that are young, and you’re looking at players that you can spot down the road in the playoffs and what they can help us do,” Mulkey said. “It was good to see all of them on the floor, and they all did something good.”
Baylor was without senior guard DiDi Richards for a portion of the contest, as Richards encountered some foul trouble early in the game. In her absence, guards Jordyn Oliver and Sarah Andrews stepped up to the plate, both performing admirably in an important game for the Lady Bears. Even though young players struggle at times, Mulkey was able to find moments that can be used to build on for the future of their careers.
“You have to teach but you also have to praise,” Mulkey said. “Those are minutes that were valuable, and they were playing against starters from TCU, and they still did some pretty good stuff there in the first half.”
Smith scored eight of the first 12 points of the game for the Lady Bears, even while being blanketed by the Horned Frog defense. For a player like Smith, being able to adjust to the defenses thrown her way by different teams is absolutely key. Smith was able to convert on several lob passes in the game, but was quick to credit her teammates for the assist.
“I feel like it comes from chemistry,” Smith said. “In practice, we always practice those things. At this point, we’re so far in the season that they know where I want the ball and when I want it. So, it goes back to team chemistry. They know where to pass the ball and they know that I’m going to go get it.”
The first quarter was a slow one for both teams, but Baylor’s defense helped keep them in the driver’s seat. Egbo came up big in the closing minutes of the first, with two blocks on one possession to help keep TCU in single digits for the first quarter. At the end of one, Baylor led 19-7.
The second quarter began with the teams trading buckets, but a 9-0 run that began with just under three and a half minutes to play in the quarter stretched the lead all the way to 18. Baylor was able to take huge advantage of the fast break in the second, scoring 10 points in the open court. A rash of turnovers to end the quarter helped TCU get a foothold though, and the half ended much closer than it seemed it would, as the teams went to the locker room with Baylor ahead 36-23.
The third quarter saw Baylor begin to get hot from the three point line. Carrington and senior guard Moon Ursin both connected on triples in the third, leading the way from downtown. The Lady Bears were able to capitalize on their offensive rebounds, scoring seven second chance points to TCU’s five. Neither team was able to get a hot streak going in the third, but Baylor would add to its lead, entering the fourth with a 59-42 advantage.
The Lady Bears opened the fourth on a 7-0 run, a sign of what was to come in the game’s closing period. Baylor scored a stunning 26 points in the paint in the fourth, a far cry from the four the Frogs were able to get around the rim. Baylor was back on the break in the fourth as well, getting 11 points from running in the open floor. The bench was huge for Baylor in the final quarter, scoring 15 points, almost four times as much as the TCU bench scored in the entire game.
Baylor will see the floor again at noon Saturday to face off with Texas in the Big 12 semifinals in Kansas City, Mo. The game will air on Big 12 Now on ESPN+.