No. 7 seed Baylor WBB rallies past No. 10 seed Alabama, 78-74 in opening round of NCAA Tournament

Graduate student guard Ja'Mee Asberry (21) gathers the ball and looks to shoot a 3-pointer during No. 7 seed Baylor women's basketball's opening round contest against No. 10 seed University of Alabama Saturday in the Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn. Photo courtesy of Baylor Athletics

By Michael Haag | Sports Editor

When No. 7 seed Baylor women’s basketball only put up four points in the first quarter, little did it know that a measly output like that would be the margin at the end of the game.

The Bears trailed by as much as 18 points in the first quarter, but a program record seven made 3-pointers from graduate student guard Ja’Mee Asberry helped rally past No. 10 seed University of Alabama, 78-74, in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament Saturday evening in the Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn.

“Wow, we were really bad in the first quarter and really good after that,” head coach Nicki Collen said. “I think they came out punching. I will say this, having coached in the SEC before, it’s an athletic, physical league, and I thought they came out and they were more physical than us. They were playing downhill.”

Asberry finished with a team-high 26 points to fuel Baylor’s 18-point comeback win, which tied for the third biggest recovery in tournament history. Her outing went toe-to-toe with Alabama’s Brittany Davis, who poured in 33 points, tying a career-high and program record for points scored in an NCAA Tournament. Davis went 10-for-16 from the floor and 7-of-11 from deep.

Asberry’s mom’s birthday was on March 16, and her dad texted her and told her to “make this game about her,” since she died when Asberry was 16.

The Tulsa, Okla., native said that was “what got me going internally.”

“When I was at halftime, I was just sitting there, and I was just quiet, and I was just praying to her like let me — if I’m going to go out, let me go out with a bang,” Asberry said. “Thankfully we won, and I think that that game’s for her.”

The Bears (20-12) gave Asberry some offensive support in the form of fifth-year senior forward Caitlin Bickle and junior guard Sarah Andrews, who each added 14.

Baylor will face No. 2 seed University of Connecticut in the second round on Monday night. Meanwhile, the Crimson Tide (20-11) end their season on a five-game losing streak.

“Basketball is a game of mistakes,” Alabama head coach Kristy Curry said. “I don’t want those three mistakes to define who [my players] are and what they’ve done for the program. Baylor made some plays down the stretch, and we weren’t able to. At the end of the day, that’s the game.”

Alabama jumped out to a 22-4 lead by the end of the first quarter, thanks to a sizzling 15 points on three triples and six free throws from Davis. The Bears only found production from freshman forward Darianna Littlepage-Buggs, who had the team’s four points.

Baylor only made two of its first 16 shots from the floor and was 0-for-7 on shots from distance over those first 10 minutes. Littlepage-Buggs was able to secure the group’s first points on a layup after three offensive rebounds in the one possession.

Baylor trimmed its deficit to 11 by halftime after Asberry connected on all four of her 3-pointers in the second quarter. Freshman forward Bella Fontleroy cashed in on a pair of triples as well to help the Bears only trail the Crimson Tide, 41-30.

Fontleroy finished the game with 10 points and the game-clinching rebound off a missed free throw.

Andrews said she pulled the team together after the first quarter and told everyone to settle down and play their game.

“I just kept saying we have to stick together,” Andrews said. “They hit shots — I felt like everything they shot was going in for them. We just stuck together, and we knew sooner or later we were going to knock down shots. Most of all, it wasn’t about trading baskets. It was about us playing defense.”

The green and gold came out of the locker room on fire, as it opened the third quarter on a 16-3 run to take a 46-44 lead. The burst of scoring was capped off by Andrews’ 3-pointer from the left wing at the 7:33 mark.

Alabama clawed back and took a 59-54 advantage into the final period.

Even though Andrews dominated the fourth quarter with 3-of-4 triples, Baylor’s defense came out stingy. The Bears held the Crimson Tide without a field goal for more than four minutes and hoisted a 71-68 advantage after one of Andrews’ threes with 3:32 to go.

Davis responded with a 3-pointer from the left wing to tie the game at 71 apiece. Alabama converted a 3-point play to give it a 74-71 lead with 53.5 seconds left.

That was the last offense the Crimson Tide would get, as Baylor made seven foul shots — the final three coming from Asberry — to finish out the contest. The team was 14-for-16 collectively from the charity stripe, including a 9-of-10 mark in the final quarter.

The Bears have now thumped their two-game losing streak and head to the round of 32 versus UConn (30-5). The game, scheduled for Monday, will be played in the Huskies’ home venue, the Gampel Pavilion.

A game time has not been announced yet, so stay tuned with @BULariatSports on Twitter for the latest updates.