No. 6 WBB beats Texas to advance to Big 12 Tournament final

Baylor forward NaLyssa Smith, left, battles for a rebound with Texas guard Celeste Taylor (0) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the semifinal round of the Big 12 women's tournament in Kansas City, Mo., Saturday, March 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

By Harper Mayfield | Sports Writer

Baylor women’s basketball continued their quest for a Big 12 tournament title on Saturday, beating Texas 66-55 to advance to the championship game.

The Lady Bears had four double digit scorers, led by junior forward NaLyssa Smith. Smith had 21 points in addition to 14 rebounds. Other big contributors for Baylor included senior guard Moon Ursin, who poured in 19 points to go with eight rebounds, DiJonai Carrington added 14 points of her own, and center Queen Egbo put up 10 points, blocked three shots, and secured a stunning 18 rebounds. Head coach Kim Mulkey was especially impressed with Egbo’s performance on the glass.

“How about Queen Egbo with 18 rebounds?” Mulkey said. “Good golly molly. Not even to mention the double double that she and NaLyssa both had. Rebound and defend. Rebound and defend. It’ll win you a lot of basketball games.”

Baylor did just that in this one, holding the Longhorns to under 35% shooting on the night, and outrebounding Texas 51-29. Baylor was also all over the offensive glass, using their strong inside presence to score 28 second chance points, almost double what Texas was able to create from their offensive rebounds.

As effective as the Baylor post players were in rebounding the ball, they were also able to get their guards open looks. Ursin was a strong 8-16 from the field, and was quick to credit the work of the Lady Bear posts.

“Today I was just knocking down shots,” Ursin said. “Credit the posts, they were using the players we were drawing up, setting different screens, making the pass in a timely manner.”

Mulkey is very familiar with Texas coach Vic Schaeffer, having coached against his powerhouse Mississippi State teams for a number of years. Running up against a veteran coach with a talented roster is never easy, but Mulkey felt that the team has evolved significantly even since the last time the two met.

“I thought we were much better down the stretch than we were the last time we played them,” Mulkey said. “I thought that they cut the lead, but yet we did enough things to execute and just hang in there and keep it far enough away from them to think they had a shot to win.”

The first quarter opened with a 6-0 run for Baylor, which became a large deficit in a plodding offensive quarter. Those six points were the only ones scored through more than the game’s first five minutes. From there, UT was able to trade baskets with Baylor for the rest of the quarter, but it wasn’t enough to cut into the deficit before the break, as the Lady Bears would enter the second quarter with an eight point advantage, leading 20-12.

Baylor didn’t come out quite so hot in the second, and Texas was quick to take advantage of that. In less than three minutes, the Baylor lead had been cut to just two points. Add another three minutes and the game was a free throw away from being all tied up. A string of key buckets from Ursin and Smith helped keep the Lady Bears on top, though, as Baylor would head to halftime ahead 37-30.

The third quarter allowed Baylor to get back to pushing the lead. Despite some serious shooting woes (just 5-21from the field) Baylor was able to open up a double digit deficit. Second chance points were big for the Lady Bears in the third, as 10 of their 28 were found in the game’s penultimate quarter. Baylor was also able to turn some defense into offense, earning a couple of buckets from Texas turnovers. Facing down a poor shooting quarter, Baylor went to the fourth up by 12, 52-40.

Eager to advance to the Big 12 title game, Baylor kept its foot on the gas for the final quarter of play. An early 6-0 run helped the Lady Bears create the largest lead of the game, a 14 point hole. UT would make a strong push, trimming the lead all the way to five before Baylor put them away for good on an 8-0 run powered by Smith and Ursin. After a hard-fought game, Baylor would advance with a 66-55 win.

Baylor will see the court again on Sunday at noon to show down with No. 17 West Virginia for a shot at the Big 12 tournament title. The game will air on ESPN2.