No. 2 WBB crush No. 15 Hawaii by 40 in NCAA Tournament opening round

By Marquis Cooley | Sports Editor, Video by Joe Pratt | Broadcast Reporter

No. 2 seeded Baylor women’s basketball let loose in the second half to beat No. 15 seeded University of Hawaii at Manoa 89-49 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Friday afternoon at the Ferrell Center.

Graduate guard Jordan Lewis led the Bears in scoring with 23 points, missing just one shot from the floor (7-of-8). She also dished out five assists and grabbed eight rebounds. Head coach Nicki Collen said the play of Lewis will be key to the Bears making a deep run in the tournament.

“Her ability to attack the paint and finish, get herself to the free-throw line … especially early in games, that sets the tone for us,” Collen said. “She’s a huge key for us.”

Even though she was “a little under the weather,” according to Collen, senior forward NaLyssa Smith overcame a quiet first half to end with 21 points (9-of-13) and 14 rebounds for her 25th double-double of the season. The mark is a single-season program record and fifth all-time in Big 12 history.

NaLyssa Smith takes a jump shot on March 18 against Hawaii
NaLyssa Smith takes a jump shot against Hawaii on March 18 at the Ferrell Center. Grace Everett | Photographer

“She’s one of them players, you might not realize it, but you can look up at any given moment and she’ll have 20,” sophomore guard Sarah Andrews said. “It’s amazing just the way she impacts the game, and at any given moment I know she’s going to go off.”

The other two Bears to reach double figures were Andrews and senior center Queen Egbo. Egbo anchored Baylor’s defense with 10 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks. Andrews did a little bit of everything, stuffing the stat sheet with 16 points, seven rebounds and six assists.

All eyes on Queen Egbo as she goes in for the shot against Hawaii. Grace Everett | Photographer
All eyes on Queen Egbo as she goes in for the shot against Hawaii on March 18 in the Ferrell Center. Grace Everett | Photographer

Both squads brought strong defensive intensity in the first quarter as each team shot below 40% in the period. However, Baylor (28-6, 15-3 Big 12) was able to find a rhythm late to take a 16-12 lead. The Bears came out strong to start the second, going on a quick run to push their lead to 10. Hawaii (20-10, 13-3 Big West) graduate forward Amy Atwell kept the Rainbow Wahine within striking distance with her ability to knock down the three-ball. Atwell scored 20 points in the first half (4-of-7 from three) to keep Hawaii’s deficit in single digits as the Bears led 38-29 heading into halftime. Lewis said they knew going into the break, that needed to change.

“The message was that we gave up 20 points to one player and we didn’t want to be the team that gave up an NCAA record,” Lewis said. “We had to kind of guard and lock in on defense and get closer to her and make her put it on the floor because she’s a great shooter and has a quick release.”

Collen made the decision to switch guards instead of forwards onto Atwell to try and run her off of the three-point line. The defensive adjustment did the trick as Atwell only had nine points in the second half.

Finding an answer to Hawaii’s scoring punch, allowed the Bears to go on a massive run. Smith and Lewis combined for 29 of Baylor’s 34 points in the third quarter to stretch the lead to 72-37. Baylor’s 34 points marked the highest quarter total for the Bears this season.

“I think everyone is getting back under their feet from not playing for a few days,” Lewis said. “I think coming out of the half, we wanted to separate ourselves and not keep the game close. So I think just getting out, and running in transition, is when we’re at our best.”

Andrews, playing through an injured left hand, found her groove in the fourth, scoring Baylor’s first 10 points in the final period as they maintained a 40-point lead to advance to the round of 32.

“To see [the ball] going through, I was just like, finally,” Andrews said. “The past few games I struggled putting the ball in the hole, but I think it was more about finding a rhythm … Coach always kept telling me, ‘Shoot the ball, shoot the ball. It’ll go in sooner or later.’”

Sarah Andrews goes up for a layup against Hawaii on March 18 in the Ferrell Center. Grace Everett | Photographer
Sarah Andrews goes up for a layup against Hawaii on March 18 in the Ferrell Center. Grace Everett | Photographer

Next the Bears will face 10th-seeded South Dakota (28-5) on Sunday at a time to be announced in the Ferrell Center. The Coyotes upset seventh-seeded Ole Miss, 75-61 in their first round game. Andrews and Collen challenged the Waco community to sell out the arena because of how much they affect the game.

“It’s amazing when they come out and support us,” Andrews said. “I don’t think they know how much of an impact that they make when we have a crowd like that. We need that same thing Sunday. It’s just amazing to have a crowd like that because it motivates us to come out and play hard.”