It was time to sing the National Anthem, but the Lady Bears were at center court. Kalani Brown took the microphone and announced to the crowd that Kim Mulkey had just won the 550th game of her career when Baylor took down Texas Tech on the road on Sunday.
As the senior spoke, the rest of her teammates proudly unveiled three flower arrangements hanging on easels that wrote out 550 in red roses.
“My players bought those,” the Baylor head coach said. “Wow! Wow! That’s the kind of kids I get to coach. I didn’t know that until the game was over. And I thought, ‘Wow, my players are buying that.’ ”
Around two hours later, the Lady Bears were back near center court, this time with their hands raised in bear paw signs celebrating Mulkey’s 551st win as fourth-ranked Baylor held off a scrappy Kansas State team, 65-50.
“We’re going to have nights like this,” Mulkey said. “Guys, we’ve played three games in seven days, and you tell me we haven’t been on an emotional, physical (roller coaster). And you’ve got to just keep grinding. You’re going to play four games in 10 days. You’ve got to grind.”
While the final score might seem like another double-figure win for the Lady Bears, the Wildcats made it anything but easy. Baylor led by nine at the half before Kansas State came out guns blazing in the third to take a one-point lead with 3:03 left in the quarter.
But after Kansas State moved ahead, the Wildcats didn’t score again for the rest of the frame as Baylor finished out the third quarter on a 9-0 run.
“I don’t want to say it was a wake-up call,” Mulkey said. “I’m a coach that believes in giving credit to the opponent. I think they had one starter (Kali Jones) that sprained her ankle and wasn’t out there. (K-State coach Jeff Mittie) dismissed another player this week. They had a game plan, and they didn’t waver from their game plan
“They hit shots in that third quarter. They shot 50 percent in that quarter. It’s just part of the game, but we didn’t panic. It’s basketball.”
From the point the Wildcats went up 42-41 for that lead late in the third quarter, the Lady Bears ended up outscoring Kansas State 24-8 the rest of the way. In the fourth quarter alone, Baylor held the Wildcats to 2-of-16 shooting from the floor (12.5 percent). Both of those makes were 3-pointers.
“I think it was good for us just to have a game like that, especially when we’re tired, because getting to the end of the season we’re going to have two, three games in a row like that,” junior forward Lauren Cox said. “So, just having to fight like that and not be up 20, 30, where we can just coast it out. So, that was good for us.”
A big part of that fourth quarter was Baylor’s use of its big lineup. For most of the final period, the Lady Bears had 6-4 Cox, 6-7 Kalani Brown and 6-2 NaLyssa Smith on the floor together.
“The fourth quarter got away from us,” Mittie said. “(You) have to take advantage of every opportunity against a team like Baylor. That big lineup really hurt us. We had trouble matching that big lineup. ... We had to make 3s at the other end when open. That was our advantage at the other end. We just didn’t make those plays.”
Kansas State finished the game 7-of-26 from the perimeter and 18-of-56 overall from the floor. Peyton Williams led the Wildcats with 18 points. No other Kansas State player finished in double digits.
“They lead the nation in blocked shots,” Mittie said. “Their defense locked us down. They limited (Kayla) Goth in that stretch and made it tough on (our) young players to make decision with the ball.“
As Kansas State fired away from deep, Baylor went 0-for-4 from the 3-point line, breaking the program’s streak of 56-straight games with a made triple. The Lady Bears did, however, outscore Kansas State in the paint by a margin of 52-16.
Overall, Baylor finished the game shooting 46 percent on the night, led by Kalani Brown with 16 points, followed by Cox with 13 points and Juicy Landrum with 12 points.
Cox also finished with a team-high 10 rebounds to go with five assists, three blocks and zero turnovers.
“They kind of surprised us with a man (defense) because K-State is a zone team,” Cox said. “They usually play a zone, and we’ve been working on that the past couple days. So, they kind of surprised us with the man. And it was tough, because they were packing the paint and we weren’t hitting some of the normal shots we hit.”
The Lady Bears will return to the court Saturday at TCU.
Bear Facts: Kalani Brown and Lauren Cox are on the John Wooden Midseason Top 25 Watch List. Only three players in total are on the list from the Big 12 as Iowa State’s Bridget Carleton rounds out the league’s honorees.