By Marquis Cooley | Sports Editor
No. 5 Baylor women’s basketball captured a share of their 12th-consecutive Big 12 regular season title with an 87-62 beatdown of No. 9 Iowa State University Monday night at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa. Head coach Nicki Collen said this moment showcased the squad’s resiliency as they’re the first team since Texas Tech University in 2000 to start conference play 0-2 and go on to win a Big 12 title.
“It’s the expectation here,” Collen said. “The pressure was on, we were picked to win it. We were 0-2 [in conference] and everyone was counting us out and saying we were vulnerable. I think it’s more about our resiliency. It’s about putting ourselves in this position to compete in this game, and then not just compete in this game, but to own it, to really own it on both sides of the ball. We proved tonight that we were the better team. Now, we’re going to have to keep proving it.”
Even though senior forward NaLyssa Smith has won a Big 12 Championship every year she’s been here, she said this one means more due to the adversity they faced throughout the season and having to “grind more” than in year’s past.
“It means everything to us,” Smith said. “I feel like we’ve been through so much adversity, time after time. Whether it’s injuries, COVID, new coach, new staff, I just feel like we never complained at the end of it. We always just took that adversity and put it on our shoulders and just kept working, kept putting in extra hours [in] film, recovery, all that. I just feel like this team has so much strength, mentally and physically. And I feel like that’s what got us this championship.”
In what Collen called a “National Player of the Year performance,” Smith finished with 28 points and a career-high 20 rebounds, becoming the first Bear since Kalani Brown on Feb. 13, 2018 at Oklahoma State University to record a 20/20 game. She also defended the rim, collecting four blocks. Smith said going into the game the only thing on her mind was a conference championship.
“A Big 12 Championship to me, that’s all that was on my mind,” Smith said. “I told ya’ll last time, that’s the standard here at Baylor. I’ve been a part of this for three years now, and I just wanted to get my fourth. That was my main thing coming back.”
Graduate student guard Jordan Lewis exploded in the second half, shooting 5-of-5 from deep for 17 points. She finished with 23 points on the night, as well as six assists and two steals. Senior center Queen Egbo filled the stat sheet with 10 points, eight rebounds, three blocks and two steals. Senior forward Caitlin Bickle and junior guard Ja’Mee Asberry also reached double-figures, scoring 13 and 10 respectively.
After leading just 19-18 at the end of the first quarter and then trailing midway through the second, Baylor went on a 16-1 run to take control of the game and a 41-29 halftime lead. Smith took over the first half, scoring 19 points to go with nine boards.
“Liz was so good from the tip that I think she allowed the entire team to relax,” Collen said. “She just carried us until everyone else kind of got going.”
Despite being up double-digits at halftime, Collen said she was worried because of ISU’s ability to heat up from long range.
“You worry because of how they shoot the three and they’re a team that their best quarter is the third quarter all season long,” Collen said. “Certainly it was great to be up 12 at half, but we were really focused on pushing that out.”
That’s exactly what the Bear’s did, out-scoring the Cyclones 28-14 in the third quarter to help stretch the lead to as much as 30 points in the fourth quarter. While Collen was happy with the win, she wants to win the conference outright by beating Texas Tech University (10-17, 3-13 Big 12) in the regular season finale when the two teams square off at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Ferrell Center.
“Honestly, this means a lot to me, but it’ll mean a lot more on Sunday because we got one more game,” Collen said. “We don’t want to share, call me greedy, but this isn’t enough. We want to win it outright and cut down nets and be there ourselves.”