By Michael Haag | Sports Writer, Video by Braden Murray | Broadcast Reporter
No. 5 Baylor women’s basketball squeaked by the University of Missouri 70-68 in a thrilling finish Saturday night in the Ferrell Center. The Tigers (8-1) made it a close one, even with the Bears (8-1) leading on the scoreboard most of the way.
Senior forward Nalyssa Smith led the attack for the Bears with a monstrous 25-point, 17 rebound performance. Smith recorded her eighth-consecutive double-double in a tough matchup against Mizzou junior guard Aijha Blackwell. Both Blackwell (20 points, 16 rebounds) and Smith traded baskets all night and played with lots of energy and grit.
Smith said the matchup between the two of them was all respect, with the two of them knowing each other off the court. She said that bond made the contest better as competitors, since they always want to come at each other with everything they have.
“Me and Aijha are close friends actually. We talk a lot off the court,” Smith said. “We played in USA Basketball together so we’ve always had that relationship. Anytime you play against someone that you know is a good player, you [are] going to play with a chip on your shoulder. I know she’s a dog, she knows I’m a dog so I mean, the best man wins.”
Smith gained assistance in the scoring column from senior forward Caitlin Bickle, who put up 11 points on 4-of-7 from the floor. Graduate transfer guard Jordan Lewis, who has some SEC experience from her Alabama days, scored nine points and dished out seven assists. The third player in double figures for the Bears was sophomore guard Sarah Andrews, who recorded 10 points on 4-of-9 from the field.
Baylor’s biggest struggle came from the free throw line, as the team shot 56% on 32 attempts. Some of the misses came with the opportunity to extend their late-game lead, which frustrated head coach Nicki Collen.
“You just can’t come up empty [at the foul line],” Collen said. “We had some seriously empty possession where we went and missed two at the line. Even missing one of two is like a momentum changer. And so I thought that hurt us more than anything to me. And it’s not like I think there’s anybody on our team that isn’t capable of making 70 to 80 percent of their foul shots. So that was the most frustrating part for me as a coach is putting them in situations where they get free shots and then not taking advantage of them.”
Mizzou came into the Big 12/SEC Challenge matchup undefeated, looking to upset the Bears on the road. Smith said the team knew the game would be a battle as during scouting they knew what to expect and in the end, held off a valiant effort from the Tigers.
“I mean, if you come into a game undefeated, you’re playing at an all time high. So when they did come in I expected every single thing,” Smith said. “We watched their scout. We knew they could shoot, we knew they could drive. They played their best game and we just came out to win.”
Baylor came out with energy, in the first four minutes of action, they scored seven unanswered points and forced a Mizzou timeout. Smith put up five quick points, one shot coming via a crafty spin move along the baseline. The Bears finished the quarter ahead of the Tigers 13-12.
The second quarter was dominated by Smith, who scored eight of the last eleven points for the Bears in the period. She found ways to score from every angle possible in the midrange. Smith finished the half with 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting and also snatched eight rebounds. Junior guard Ja’Mee Asberry connected on two threes, which led the way from behind the arc.
To open the third, Andrews scored off of a spin on a layup to increase Baylor’s lead to eleven. Mizzou wasn’t going away, as the entire quarter was a back-and-forth battle. The Tigers kept it close the rest of the way and Baylor went into the break ahead 56-52. Smith notched her double-double this period, where she snagged six rebounds. Bickle helped out in the scoring column, scoring six points to up her total to eleven.
Mizzou started the final quarter hot, where they hit three jump shots and took a three-point lead just three minutes into the period. Smith responded in a big way, as she muscled her way to an offensive rebound and scored on an and-one finish. Moments later, Andrews hit a huge three, a shot that erupted the Ferrell Center and gave Baylor a 64-40 lead with under six minutes left. Baylor used the momentum to go on a 12-0 run over the next few minutes and extend their lead to nine.
The Tigers once again fought back in the contest via an 8-0 run of their own. With 27.9 seconds left in the game and Baylor leading 69-68 with possession, Mizzou fouled Andrews to send her to the charity stripe. She missed both shots which gave the Tigers a shot to take the lead. Junior guard Lauren Hansen dribbled up the court and attempted a step-back three over Bickle, which missed the frame, putting possession back with Baylor. Lewis was fouled next and sent to the line, where she made one of two, giving the Bears a 70-68 lead with 12.7 on the clock. Hansen had a decent midrange attempt to tie the game, but the shot bricked off the iron. Baylor escaped the Saturday night scare from the Tigers 70-68.
Lewis said the shot opportunities were there for the Bears, even though they didn’t fall. She also said the team was able to still play how they wanted to during crunch-time.
“Yeah, I think we got a lot of open looks,” Lewis said. “I think to win the game, you have to be able to make shots. I feel like down the stretch we were able to still attack the paint and not settle for some of those shots that we had and also step up and make some.”
The rapid-fire stretch of games for the Bears comes to an end after they play host to Alcorn State on Wednesday. Tipoff is set for 11 a.m. in the Ferrell Center. The Bears will have 11 days off after the weekday home matchup.