Walker’s 28 leads No. 5 seed Baylor WBB to Sweet 16 in 75-72 win over No. 4 seed Virginia Tech

Baylor women's basketball has now reached the Sweet 16 for the 13th time in the last 15 years, including the 16th time in program history, which is the third-most in the last two decades behind only UConn and Stanford. Photo courtesy Baylor Athletics

By Michael Haag | Sports Editor

She may be the smallest on the court at times, but 5-foot-7 junior guard Jada Walker had the biggest impact on Sunday.

Walker poured in a career-high 28 points — highlighted by a crucial and-one layup with 19 seconds to go — and No. 5 seed Baylor women’s basketball escaped No. 4 seed Virginia Tech 75-72 in the Cassell Coliseum in Blacksburg, Va.

Walker, a transfer from Kentucky, scored 26 of her 28 points in the second half to lead the Bears (26-7) to the Sweet 16 for the first time since the 2020-21 season, which was Kim Mulkey’s final year at the helm.

“Obviously, Jada did it in the second half,” Baylor head coach Nicki Collen said. “She was unbelievable down the stretch.”

Now in her third year, Collen can put the first weekend in the rearview mirror after back-to-back second-round exits in her first two years.

“We have a lot of kids that live for these moments, that really enjoy these environments,” Collen said. “I do, too. I’m at my happiest when I’m in a competitive game. In this situation, you’re focused on one thing and one thing only; getting stops and putting the ball in the basket.

“We have a group of competitors.”

The Hokies (25-8) were still without All-American Elizabeth Kitley, who tore her ACL in their regular season finale on March 3. Junior guard Matilda Ekh paced Virginia Tech with 19 points on 4-of-8 shooting from deep. Ekh (19), freshman center Clara Strack (18) and senior guard Georgia Amoore (18) combined for 55 of Virginia Tech’s 72 points.

“Our kids could have very well hung their heads in all of the dismay at the time when Liz’s injury happened, but they didn’t,” Hokies head coach Kenny Brooks said. “They kept their focus and locked in and reinvented themselves. We didn’t lose because of a lack of effort tonight. We didn’t always play great. We had some spells and some things didn’t go our way, but I’m very proud of them and their effort.”

Sunday marked the Hokies’ first home loss of the season and only the second setback within the last two seasons.

Walker finished 9 of 16 from the floor and 9 of 10 from the foul line. Playing in her home state, Walker scored Baylor’s final nine points, including the 3-point play with 19 seconds left to give the Bears a four-point lead.

The Richmond, Va., native also hit a pair of free throws with 5.9 seconds left to lift Baylor to the 75-72 lead. Those free throws were a result of an intentional foul that followed a 3-pointer by Amoore with 16 seconds left.

“A little,” Walker said when asked if she was nervous at the charity stripe. “But all throughout the game, Sarah [Andrews] told me that I was made for these moments. That really gave me confidence to step up and knock them down and just clear out the noise.”

Virginia Tech couldn’t get a clean look in the final moments of the contest. Baylor fouled with less than two seconds in the game, as it had a foul to give. The Bears then deflected the Hokies’ inbounds pass before the ball ended up in Amoore’s hands, who was unable to get a clean window to shoot.

Senior guard Sarah Andrews chipped in with 16 points on 3 of 6 shooting from deep, and sophomore forward Darianna Littlepage-Buggs added 10 points on 5 of 7 shooting overall.

The Bears were able to come away with the game despite missing nine free throws. They finished 16 of 25 on the game, and Collen thought a better showing from the charity stripe could have put the game away sooner. Baylor entered the game shooting 70% from the free-throw line.

“I thought, had we made free throws, we could have created more separation,” Collen said. “That was probably my biggest frustration.”

Now, the Bears will square off with the winner of Monday’s USC and Kansas game in a Portland 3 regional semifinal contest on Saturday in Oregon.

“It just feels good to celebrate with that group of girls,” Collen said. “We started this journey in July, really in summer school. When we went overseas and played, it was all about building camaraderie to get to this point to win these close games.”

Michael Haag is a third year Journalism student from Floresville, a small town about 30 miles south of San Antonio. Haag is entering his third year at the Lariat and is hoping to continue developing his sports reporting skill set. After graduation, he plans to work on a Master’s degree in Journalism in order to one day teach at the college level. He does, however, plan on becoming a sports reporter for a publication after grad school.