Lady Bears blow by Jackson State to move on to the Round of 32

Baylor guard Moon Ursin, left, celebrates with teammate forward NaLyssa Smith during the second half of a college basketball game against Jackson State in the first round of the women's NCAA tournament at the Alamodome, Sunday, March 21, 2021, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Baylor women’s basketball kicked off the NCAA tournament with a bang on Sunday, demolishing Jackson State 101-52. The win moves the Lady Bears into the round of 32, where they’ll face off with seven seed Virginia Tech.

March Madness is a time characterized by upsets and Cinderella runs, but senior guard Moon Ursin is having none of that.

“We’re not an arrogant team, we’re very humble, but we also know who we are,” Ursin said. “We have to come in and play like we’re Baylor, like we’re the best team here. That’s just the mentality you’ve got to have if you want to win basketball games.”

Baylor got contributions from a number of players, as five players scored in double digits. They were led by Ursin, who scored 24 points, grabbed six rebounds and blocked two shots. Sunday’s performance marks Ursin’s new career high and tied her career high in three pointers made. Ursin’s contributions came at an incredibly efficient pace as the senior went 9/14 from the field, including hitting three of her four shots from beyond the arc.

Junior forward NaLyssa Smith also had a big night, finishing with 18 points and 10 rebounds of her own. Baylor also got strong scoring outputs from Jordyn Oliver, Queen Egbo and DiJonai Carrington, who had 14 points, 10 points and 10 points, respectively. Head coach Kim Mulkey felt as though the win was a complete effort from the team, and attributed that to the excitement she felt from the girls.

“I’m not a person who follows [horse racing] much,” Mulkey said. “It’s like when you put those horses in the Kentucky Derby and they’re in those gates and they’re just kind of chomping at the bit to get out of them. I think having been here since Tuesday night, our kids were just ready to play. I was ready to be on that sideline. It’s been a long time.”

Baylor started out strong in the first, jumping out to an 11-point lead just over halfway through the first quarter of play. Coming out hot was a point of emphasis for Baylor, especially in a tournament scenario.

“It’s playoff time,” Ursin said. “We have to send a message early, but not only for other teams, for ourselves. We wanted to get out hot, start out hot and fast. That’s how we get momentum, that’s how we get into the flow of things. Coming out early is something we’re going to need to do all tournament, especially as we get deeper into the playoffs.”

Ursin hit each of her three three pointers in the first, contributing to Baylor’s 57% shooting clinic from beyond the arc in the period. A 6-0 run late in the quarter helped the Lady Bears push their lead all the way to 19. That’s exactly where it would stay as the quarter ended, with Baylor leading 29-10.

The second quarter saw more strong shooting from Baylor. The Lady Bears hit 50% of their field goals in the second, almost double the percentage Jackson State shot. JSU hit a couple of shots to trim the lead slightly at the outset of the quarter, but a 13-1 run from Baylor blew the game wide open, stretching the lead to 27. A few scores from Carrington and Oliver added to the lead, but a Jackson State bucket at the end of the quarter would keep the lead at 27. At the half, Baylor was already running away with it, on top 51-24.

As hot as the Lady Bears had been in the first half, they got even hotter in the third. Baylor shot a blistering 65% in the quarter, aided by their 22 points in the paint. Early in the quarter, Jackson State had trimmed the lead to 24, but a bucket from senior guard DiDi Richards kicked off a 10-0 tear from Baylor. From there, there was little the Tigers could do. Another 16-1 scoring streak cemented the result of this one, if it wasn’t already set in stone. Heading into the fourth, things felt like a formality, as Baylor led by 45.

The enormous lead Baylor brought with them to the final quarter allowed the Lady Bear reserves to see some more time on the floor. Guards Sarah Andrews, Jaden Owens and center Hannah Gusters all scored in the fourth, as did forward Caitlin Bickle. The bench scoring from Baylor showed up in the stat sheet as well, as the Lady Bears totaled 19 bench points in the fourth alone.

The Lady Bears will take aim at the Sweet 16 on Tuesday. The time and viewing availability are still to be determined.