By Marquis Cooley | Sports Editor, Video by Joe Pratt | Broadcast Reporter
It was a successful outing for No. 5 Baylor women’s basketball as they defeated the University of Kansas 85-77 Saturday afternoon in the Ferrell Center in front of generations of the program’s finest as part of their Alumni night.
Senior forward NaLyssa Smith put on a show, playing every minute of the contest on her way to a career-high 33 points. Smith’s 16 rebounds on the afternoon gave her 1,000 for her career, becoming one of only six Bears in program history to record 1,800+ career points and 1,000+ career rebounds. Collen said Smith’s scoring output was huge.
“We needed every one of them,” Collen said. “After a couple early turnovers, I thought she made really good decisions. She finished well, she got out in transition. I think that’s the thing she’s done as well as anybody in the country through this winning stretch.”
Senior center Queen Egbo and junior guard Ja’Mee Asberry also had solid performances. Egbo finished with 14 points and nine rebounds while Asberry scored 19 points on 6-of-9 shooting to pair with six rebounds. After a bit of a slump from long range in recent games, Asberry found her rhythm, connecting on 4-of-5 from deep.
“I’ve been in the gym a lot, kind of trying to find myself, believing in God,” Asberry said. “Trying to pray to my mom and just asked, ‘What’s going on with me and how can I help my team a little more?’ I just kind of got my answer and was just like, ‘Calm down, let it come to you.’ I think that’s kind of what I did today.”
In her NCAA Division I record 158th career game, graduate student Jordan Lewis struggled a bit, shooting just 2-of-9 from the floor and 2-for-8 at the free throw line for six points. Lewis also dished out eight assists. Collen said that although Lewis struggled to shoot the ball, she affected the game in other ways and playing 158 games shows her durability.
“She’s the only kid on my team that was born before 2000, so we cracked up about that in practice yesterday,” Collen said. “It does mean that she’s played those other four seasons, and now five, through bumps and bruises and ankle sprains and wrist sprains. She struggled to shoot it tonight, but her charge was one of the biggest plays of the game that she took. When you make plays like that, that’s why she’s on the floor … she’s just resilient.”
The Bears (23-5, 13-3 Big 12) brought the intensity early, with their aggressiveness on the defensive end causing seven Kansas turnovers, which led to 10 of Baylor’s 15 points in the first quarter. However, six turnovers of their own allowed the Jayhawks to keep it competitive, even taking a 13-12 lead at one point. A three from Asberry toward the end of the period allowed Baylor to take a 15-13 lead heading into the second.
Baylor and Kansas (19-7, 10-6 Big 12) traded buckets to start the second, but the Jayhawks eventually got the upper hand, taking a 28-20 advantage. The Bears were able to storm back with a 13-0 run to the delight of the Ferrell crowd, as they ended the half up 36-32.
At the half, Smith led all players with 14 points and seven rebounds. Junior guard Jaden Owens made an impact off the bench, connecting on a pair of triples for six points. The Bear’s struggled from the charity stripe, shooting just 9-of-17 (53%) from the line.
“We’ve been a good free throw shooting team all year but when we have a bad half, we have a BAD half,” Collen said. “It’s like when it rains, it pours.”
The squads continued to battle in the third quarter with the Jayhawks taking the lead midway through the period at 45-43. Asberry put the Bears back on top with a three and an and-one layup, causing the crowd to roar to life. Collen said and-one plays help bring energy.
“I think they energize the crowd. I think they energize the team,” Collen said. “It created separation … any separation that you can create, gives your team confidence.”
Asberry’s 11-point eruption in the third helped Baylor take a 61-54 advantage. Kansas didn’t go down easy though, making it just a three-point game with under three minutes to go in the fourth. However, two-straight layups from Egbo and a turnaround floater from Smith to go along with some stout defense prevented the Jayhawks from erasing the deficit. Late game free throws from Asberry and a layup from Smith sealed the 85-77 victory.
With the win, the Bears set themselves up for what is essentially a Big 12 Championship game against No. 9 Iowa State University (24-4, 13-3 Big 12) at 6 p.m. Monday at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa.
“It feels great, honestly, especially being here,” Smith said. “I’ve already won three, so I don’t want to be that one not to get the fourth one. So, I’m super-excited to play for another championship.”