OKLAHOMA CITY – It’s become habitual for the Baylor women’s basketball team at the Big 12 tournament. Prolific scoring outputs, broken records, winning.
It’s a habit they never hope to break, and one that refuses to get old.
With four players scoring in double figures and Kristy Wallace matching a career high with 15 assists, the top-seeded Lady Bears rolled over fourth-seeded Kansas State, 88-71, in the Big 12 tourney semifinals on Sunday afternoon at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Baylor (30-2) advances to Monday’s 8 p.m. tournament final against the Texas-West Virginia winner. The Lady Bears will be gunning for their seventh consecutive Big 12 tournament trophy, but they said that they never grow weary of all the net-cutting jubilation.
“Winning never gets old,” said senior forward Nina Davis, who led all scorers with 24 points. “If I’m ever in position where winning championships becomes the same-old same, it’s time for me to stop playing basketball. It’s always a different team. … So, really, the motivation is to win. No one likes to lose, and it’s just different each and every time.”’
The Lady Bears shot a sizzling 54 percent from the field in keeping K-State’s defense scrambling. That included a 63-percent second quarter, and 60 percent from 3-point range for the game.
If the right Lady Bear doesn’t hit you – and knock you out – the left one will.
“We’re putting up a lot of points. I think it goes back to depth,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. “We can sub and really not have much of a letdown, but we’ve had that all year. I think we’re playing very good basketball at the right time of year.”
Kansas State (22-10) hung around for about a quarter, then Baylor made its move. The Wildcats trailed only 28-23 after Karyla Middlebrook (20 points) drained a high-arcing 3-pointer from the wing at the 8:56 mark of the second quarter. But K-State couldn’t slow down the Lady Bears offensively, as Baylor attacked from every direction. Five different Baylor players supplied the next 14 points, extending the lead into double figures.
Alexis Prince continued her net-tickling tournament, shooting 7 for 8 from the floor on her way to 18 points. The senior guard is connecting on 73.9 percent of her attempts in Baylor’s two games, and showed the full range of her ability against K-State, scoring on pull-up jumpers, corner treys and putbacks in the lane.
Mulkey said that the Lady Bears “became somewhat of a different team” following a knee injury to Alexis Jones against Texas on Feb. 20. Baylor has pounded the ball inside more to posts Kalani Brown, Beatrice Mompremier and Khadijiah Cave, as well as Davis and her ever-present assortment of wiggling, in-traffic leaners and spinners.
Yet the Lady Bears possess enough outside shooting to keep defenses honest, and Wallace has produced loads of gritty play at the point guard spot. After playing 37 minutes against Texas Tech in Baylor’s tournament opener, she stayed on the floor for 38 minutes against the Wildcats. She hustled her way to five points, five rebounds and a career best-matching 15 assists, including a couple of no-look deliveries on the break in the second half.
“It was fun,” Wallace said. “But it’s a credit to my teammates for getting open in the right spots, hitting their shots.”
Davis unselfishly passed the credit back to the junior guard from Australia.
“She gets pretty much all the credit – 99.1 percent,” Davis said. “The other is finishing the shot, but we go as Kristy goes. All year long she has been our Energizer Bunny. She never gets tired. She is going to take that charge. Today she had blood running down her knees. She is always going to give her heart.”
Baylor built a 52-38 lead at the halftime break, and maintained a 16 to 19-point edge throughout the second half. The game devolved into a whistle-happy foul-fest for a stretch of the second half, perhaps a reaction to Wallace picking up a flagrant foul on a swipe across the face of Kindred Wesemann, who was driving to the basket.
Brown waged a fierce battle in the paint all game long with K-State post Breanna Lewis. The Baylor sophomore finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds, while Lewis countered with 14 points and 11 boards.
But Baylor had far too many weapons, and the Lady Bears were far too efficient for K-State to mount any kind of a comeback. Khadijiah “KayKay” Cave joined Davis, Brown and Prince in double figures with 10 points off the bench, hitting 5 of 6 from the floor.
Kansas State also shoot itself in the foot from the foul line, hitting only 11 of 25 attempts (44 percent), including a pair of air balls from Lewis.
So it’s on to another tournament final for Baylor, which will try to win the eighth Big 12 championship of the career of four-year seniors like Cave and Davis, including regular-season and tournament titles. Mulkey has walked this path many times before, and it’s become the standard.
But it’s never boring, she said.
“That’s what we’re supposed to do,” she said. “Baylor doesn’t think it’s the same-old, same-old. Baylor appreciates it. Our fans spend their money to come, and a lot of those fans are on fixed incomes. And they love the Lady Bears.
“I guess you just call it tradition, excellence, elite. These players that come to Baylor, they understand what came before they got here and they want to maintain it.”