No. 2 WBB can’t overcome slow start, upset by No. 10 South Dakota

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

In a shocking turn of events, No. 2 seed Baylor women’s basketball were upset by No. 10 seed University of South Dakota 61-47, Sunday night in the Ferrell Center, giving the Bears their earliest exit in the NCAA Tournament since a second-round loss to sixth-seeded University of Pittsburgh in 2008. The Bears had won 66 straight non-conference home games as well as 17 consecutive NCAA Tournament games at the Ferrell Center before tonight.

“They’re a good team,” senior forward Caitlin Bickle said. “If we had played our best game, our best Baylor basketball, without a doubt I think we could have won. But that wasn’t the case, and South Dakota did play their best game, so…”

Baylor found themselves in a hole early as South Dakota hit their first four shots to take an 11-0 lead, forcing a timeout from head coach Nicki Collen. Senior center Queen Egbo finally broke the seal on the basket at the 2:56 mark with a layup to give the Bears their first points of the game. Egbo was the only Bear to score in the first quarter as they found themselves trailing 16-4, shooting just 18% from the floor while South Dakota hit 4-of-5 from deep. Baylor also had an uncharacteristic 10 turnovers in the opening quarter as seemingly every entry pass to the paint was tipped by USD defenders.

“When you get down 11-0, you’re playing from behind the entire time,” Bickle said. “I think we had some good runs; they had some good runs. At that point it’s kind of like we didn’t come out from the jump the same as we did against [University of] Hawaii, same as we did against [University of] Texas, and we just can’t do that. Once you get into tournament play you can’t do that, and I think trying to come back the entire game — we just couldn’t get it done.”

The Bears began to get into an offensive groove in the second quarter as they clawed their way back to make it a four-point game following a three from graduate guard Jordan Lewis that made it 25-21. However, the Coyotes responded immediately, going on a run to take a 34-23 halftime edge.

Egbo was the leading scorer for the Bears at halftime, scoring 10 of her team-high 13 points before the break. USD’s ability to respond to Baylor runs with three-pointers was key in the first half as they shot 6-of-10 from deep. On the other hand, the Bears shot just 10-27 (37%) from the field and 3-of-12 (25%) from behind the arc. They also turned the ball over 13 times.

Queen Egbo keeps her eyes on the ball on March 20 at the Ferrell Center.Grace Everett | Photographer
Queen Egbo keeps her eyes on the ball on March 20 at the Ferrell Center.
Grace Everett | Photographer

“That’s when you kind of know you’re beat,” Collen said. “When you’ve got three really good guards that are really good shooters, who as a coach and staff and as a team you believe in, who are turning down shots and then attacking the lane and trying to play over.”

Things didn’t improve much in the third quarter as Baylor found themselves trailing 49-36, but an emphatic block from 5-6 guard Sarah Andrews on 6-2 center Hannah Sjerven ignited the Ferrell Center crowd. The Bears continued that type of defensive effort in the fourth quarter, holding the Coyotes scoreless for the first seven minutes of the period. The only problem was Baylor had trouble scoring as well, only putting up six points during that span to close the gap 49-42. USD only connected on one field goal attempt in the final period, but that was all they needed as they knocked down 10 free throws down the stretch as Baylor ran out of steam. USD held Baylor to a season-low 47 points to take the wire-to-wire victory.

“In this game, sometime being down 10 feels like 20 because you’re slugging it out every possession and having to work,” Collen said. “I just thought the physical part of the game wore us down. They were very, very, very physical with us.”

In her final game as a Baylor Bear, senior forward NaLyssa Smith matched her season-low with 10 points on 4-of-11 shooting. She also missed out on a triple-double with just eight rebounds. Collen said Smith’s best basketball is still ahead of her, and expects her to be the No. 1 pick in the upcoming WNBA draft.

“I think she’s got a warrior mentality,” Collen said. “I still think her best basketball is still ahead of her … I firmly believe NaLyssa has a whole ‘nother level to get to as she really understands the pro game and spacing. I think long-term the kid can also be a kid that goes and gets a triple-double and becomes a really great passer, because she does so many things well with the basketball.”

NaLyssa Smith goes in for the rebound against South Dakota on March 20 at the Ferrell Center. Grace Everett | Photographer
NaLyssa Smith goes in for the rebound against South Dakota on March 20 at the Ferrell Center. Grace Everett | Photographer

Although it wasn’t the outcome Collen expected, she said she was appreciative of the opportunity to coach the players she had, and learned a lot about herself during the tumultuous season.

“I’ve learned that I’m tougher than I would’ve ever thought,” Collen said. “That I’m more resilient. I think I can coach with anybody in the country. I’ve got an unbelievable staff and, I think slowly and surely, the Baylor family realized that maybe I do fit in here … I’m sure they’re not happy with me right now. That’s OK, because I’m not real happy with me right now either.”