OKLAHOMA CITY — There were questions about fatigue with three games in three days as second-ranked Baylor’s rotation was dwindled down to eight, maybe even seven with the padded cast on Natalie Chou’s left wrist. There were questions about the effect of Kristy Wallace’s injury she suffered a week ago. Without Wallace, who went off for 27 and 23 against Texas in the regular season, there were questions about how the Lady Bears would match up against Brooke McCarty and the Longhorns in the Big 12 Championship title game.
As confetti fell from the rafters, there was no doubt that Baylor answered every single one of those questions with a 77-69 win over Texas Monday night inside Chesapeake Energy Arena.
"You expect to win," Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey said. "Kristy goes down. I just wrote on the board, we expect to win. Why would we not expect to win? I've seen Alexis Morris in action. I've seen Juicy (Landrum) take over for Natalie Chou when she had the wrist injury. You expect to win. So I'm not surprised. I knew it would be a lot tougher game because when you play somebody three times, percentages tell you it's hard to beat 'em three times. I knew it would be tougher, but we just expect to win."
Baylor had just taken a 65-64 lead with 1:45 to play, the 14th lead change of the night. Cox went up for a defensive rebound when a Texas player’s arm came over her back. Joyner Holmes was called for the foul but then the Longhorns’ head coach Karen Aston was assessed a technical.
"I had a poorly, poorly timed technical that I take full responsibility for," Aston said. "I'm disappointed in myself. Definitely my fault on that one. But, again, I'm proud of our effort. Just didn't execute he way we needed to to win."
Cox stepped to the free-throw line for Baylor and nailed all four attempts to put Baylor up by five.
"I was really confident," Cox said. "I knew that they were going to be big free throws. I knew I needed to knock them down."
A minute later, it was Cox again from the line to put the Lady Bears up by seven before a wide open fast break layup by Landrum put Baylor up by nine.
"It shows that we never gave up," senior Dekeiya Cohen said. "We can rely on each other. It gives us a lot of confidence in each other going into the NCAA tournament. I think we have a lot of momentum going for us right now."
Cox finished with 13 points on the night. The sophomore forward went 3-for-13 from the floor but finished 7-for-8 from the free-throw line. In addition to timely scoring, Cox pulled down 12 rebounds and dished out four assists. The Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year also finished with seven blocks.
"Defense is a big part of my game," Cox said. "Going into it I knew, like, scoring wasn't going to be big for me. Other people were going to take care of that. I knew that defense was going to be the big thing for me."
Cox was named to the all-tournament team, as was Alexis Morris. The freshmen stepped in at point guard for the injured Wallace and went off for six points against Kansas State, 18 points against TCU and then a career-high 19 points against Texas. Morris scored nine of those points in the fourth quarter. She went 6-for-6 at the free-throw line against the Longhorns to go with three assists to only one turnover Monday night.
"(Morris) was phenomenal all tournament," junior Kalani Brown said. "She made good decisions, made shots when she needed to, was a leader leading this team and when she needed to look to somebody she had me, Lauren and Dekeiya to help her. She is just a great player and she hasn't just been doing this at this tournament. She's been doing it all year. Now that Kristy Wallace has gone down that's sad, but I think she stepped into that leadership role and she is comfortable. I'm just proud of her."
And then there was Brown. The tournament’s Most Outstanding Player finished with 20 points as she played nearly every minute for Baylor.
Landrum added 11 points for Baylor, while Cohen and Richards combined for 14.
On the night, Baylor battled against Texas with six players. Moon Ursin played only a minute toward the end of the second quarter when Dekeiya Cohen picked up her third foul. From then on, it was Cohen, Alexis Morris, Lauren Cox, Juicy Landrum and Kalani Brown with Didi Richards subbing in and out. Those six went up against eight different Longhorns.
"Let me just tell you, there was two fine basketball teams battling and grinding it out, people," Mulkey said. "I mean, we've got six players and another one played 30 seconds and you just beat a team that's full of great players, that's full of depth. I've been around a lot of basketball and this is going to go down as one of the gutsiest performances I've ever been a part of.
Overall, the Lady Bears finished the night shooting 47.5 percent from the floor. Defensively, Baylor held Texas to 34.2 percent. Lashann Higgs led the Longhorns with 20 points, followed by McCarty with 16, while Ariel Atkins and Jatarie White each finished with 12 points.
Texas did most of its damage on the offensive glass. The Longhorns pulled down 22 offensive boards for 26 second chance points. Baylor, though, won the rebounding battle, 44-42.
"You can't let 'em just go to the offensive boards," Mulkey said. "Good grief, they can leap out of the gym. That's where you saw a lot of our fatigue. Kalani got good position at 6-7 and she just couldn't jump. To just gut it out and give up that may offensive boards and still win the game is special."