OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – Kristy Wallace couldn’t hold back her tears.
The Baylor school song was playing but, instead of being in the center of the court with her teammates jumping around, Wallace stood off to the corner with only Beatrice Mompremier and Alexandria Gulley.
The rest of the Lady Bears were already in the locker room as they fell short of their goal.
Meanwhile, the Mississippi State Bulldogs were carrying Morgan William – who went off for 41 points – as they celebrated their first-ever Final Four berth with a 94-85 victory over Baylor Sunday night inside Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“I just went in the locker room and apologized to the seniors that I couldn’t as their coach get them to a Final Four,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. “I thanked them for four wonderful years of Elite Eight basketball. Many players and schools across the country would trade places with them in a heartbeat.”
Baylor had a chance to take the game in regulation.
Down by five with 3:23 to play, Kalani Brown sank a layup to cut that lead to three as the Baylor defense followed up with a stop on the other end.
With the ball at the top of the key, Alexis Jones drew a foul on a 3-point attempt and made all three of them to tie the game.
The Baylor defense then got another stop and Brown made a layup to give the Lady Bears a two-point lead with a minute and a half left.
Baylor followed that up with a forced turnover and Jones got a good look at the bucket but the shot didn’t fall.
On the other end, William drove the lane and sank a layup to tie the game back up with 22 seconds to go.
Jones drove the lane the following possession but the ball didn’t fall through the hoop.
“We had a shot to win the game,” Mulkey said. “Jones I thought took a good look there at the end of regulation, blocked it or two or three of them collapsed on her.”
The Destination Dallas dream slipped through Baylor’s fingers against the Bulldogs.
The Lady Bears finished with 17 turnovers, and Mississippi State capitalized with 20 points off those Baylor errs.
“Seventeen turnovers to four,” Mulkey said. “You shouldn’t even be in the ball game, not at the Elite Eight level.”
In what was expected to be a battle of the bigs, Baylor held that advantage inside.
Kalani Brown only missed twice as the sophomore put up 27 points and played every single minute of the game.
Nina Davis was also going to work inside with only four misses on the night for 18 points.
Down the stretch, though, the Lady Bears got the ball inside fewer times.
“That goes back to ball pressure,” Mulkey said. “When you’ve got that much down on the block, you better find them every time and have the ability to get them the ball.”
Added Brown: “They were denying me the ball. That’s pretty much it. It made it hard for me to get open.”
On the perimeter, though, was where the game was won as William took over.
The 5-foot-5 junior guard entered the game with the third fewest 3-point attempts on her team.
Against Baylor, she sank big perimeter bucket after big perimeter bucket for a 6-for-8 mark from deep.
“She wasn’t supposed to be able to shoot like that,” Alexis Jones said. “But it was difficult to get (through all the) screens. If you followed her, she was probably going to take you off the dribble. If you try to go over the top, they were moving and bringing up the screen a little higher, so when she caught the ball, she was just pulling it. It was just her night for those things to go in.”
But it wasn’t just William.
Victoria Vivians was also a threat for Mississippi State as she finished with 24 points.
Those two guards combined for 65 points against a Baylor defense that entered the game allowing opponents to average 55.2 points.
Overall, Mississippi State finished 10-for-20 from the perimeter, marking only the second time this season the Bulldogs made double-digit triples.
“They doubled the number of 3s they even make all year,” Mulkey said. “I’ve said all year that when you beat us, you’re going to have to hit 10 or more 3s or beat us on the offensive boards, and they did. (William) kicked our rear.”
With the game tied and overtime about to start, the Lady Bears felt good about the spot they were in.
“I thought we had it,” Davis said. “It was right there. We kept getting there. We kept taking the lead by one. We just needed one stop – one stop. We stayed together and kept reminding each other we only need the one stop. Every time we’d get the lead, they’d come down and shoot a 3 or we would foul. We just could never get the one stop we needed.”
And now, Baylor’s season is over.
“It’s a disappointment,” Brown said. “I’m just sorry I couldn’t get (the seniors) there.”
Said senior Alexis Prince in the locker room, “It doesn’t feel real.”