MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — It wasn’t so much Baylor’s offense. After shooting only 32 percent from the floor in the first quarter, the Lady Bears lit it up the rest of the game, shooting 83 percent in second quarter, 65 percent in the third quarter and 50 percent in the fourth quarter.
The biggest adjustment for third-ranked Baylor in its road victory — where it trailed for more than 22 minutes — came on the defensive end. Behind increased intensity and an adjustment at the half, the Lady Bears held the No. 20 Mountaineers scoreless the final 4:29 of the game to run away with an 83-72 victory.
“I said at halftime, ‘Good grief, if they play like that all the time, I don’t know how (West Virginia) has four losses in the league,’ ” Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey said. “We finally, in the second half, had to start switching at all positions to be able to defend them.”
The Lady Bears were able to do that successfully because of the versatility on their roster. Lauren Cox, Dekeiya Cohen, Natalie Chou and Didi Richards — all 6-foot-1 or taller — can defend in the post and outside on the perimeter. After that change, the red-hot West Virginia cooled off. The Mountaineers opened up shooting 50 percent in the first quarter and 60 percent in the second before going down to 50 percent in the third and falling off to 15 percent in the fourth quarter.
The biggest area of success for West Virginia came behind the 3-point line. A 3-pointer by Kristy Wallace tied the game at 12 halfway through the first quarter but back-to-back triples by the Mountaineers put the home team up by six in a span of less than two minutes.
After the Lady Bears began switching screens, West Virginia went from 7-of-14 from deep in the first half to 3-of-9 in the second.
“We had to grind it out,” Mulkey said on the postgame radio interview. “Our defense and rebounding got better.”
On the glass, West Virginia pulled down 17 rebounds and scored six second chance points off five offensive boards in the first half, while Baylor had 18 rebounds and five second chance points off seven offensive rebounds.
In the second half, though, Baylor dominated. The Lady Bears outrebounded West Virginia, 23-8. Baylor pulled down seven offensive boards in comparison to the Mountaineers’ one as the Lady Bears scored 11 second chance points off seven offensive rebounds.
Many of those rebounds came with less than 6:39 to play when West Virginia came back and tied the game at 70. The Mountaineers finished shooting 1-for-9 from the floor from that time on, and Baylor pulled down every errant West Virginia shot.
While the halftime adjustment led to success on the defensive end of the floor for Baylor, the Lady Bears also made a bit of change on offense in the fourth quarter. Wallace entered the final frame with 20 points. Assistant coach Toyelle Wilson made a suggestion to Mulkey to sub Alexis Morris in for Natalie Chou.
Soon after that decision, Wallace drained a 3-pointer to break the 70-70 tie, giving Baylor a three-point lead. Four minutes later, it was Wallace again with a jumper to put the Lady Bears up by nine.
“My coaches are so good,” Mulkey said. “(Wilson) said to go back with Alexis at the point and move Kristy to off guard. With that speed on the floor, we could push it. And Kristy had just made a shot. We wanted to take the ball out of her hands and let other people find her.”
Wallace finished the contest with 25 points, her second straight 20-point game, fourth of the season and sixth of her career. Kalani Brown added 18 points and 12 rebounds, while Dekeiya Cohen and Chou each put up 13 points. Even though Lauren Cox finished with six points, she pulled down 14 rebounds.
The Mountaineers made it difficult for Baylor to get the ball into the posts. The West Virginia defense fronted the Lady Bear bigs, meaning the defender was directly in front of the Baylor player. In addition, another defender was merely a step or two behind the big.
In the first quarter alone, West Virginia outscored Baylor in the paint, 10-4. But after the Lady Bears played with more patience in the half court and reversed the ball some more, Baylor finished the game outscoring the Mountaineers inside, 42-20.
“It was a physical game,” Mulkey said. “That’s how they play, and it’s OK. We love to play physical. It’s been a long time since we’ve been defended that hard, taking away our strengths. We had to grind it out and make sure we didn’t turn the ball over. ... Late in the game fatigue became a factor. It became a little bit easier to have post entry because of fatigue a little bit.”