As green and gold confetti rained down inside the Ferrell Center and the Lady Bears celebrated with each other and put on their Big 12 Championship T-shirts, Kim Mulkey took a few steps away from her players and wiped her eyes with a towel.
The Baylor head coach challenged her players a few days prior with the fact that only two of her teams had ever run the table in the Big 12. With an 80-54 win over West Virginia Monday night, the Lady Bears followed through to finish 18-0 in league play.
“Yeah, there was a lot of emotion,” Mulkey said. “The culmination of an undefeated (conference) season, the third in the history of this program; playing only five players tonight; disciplining two freshmen for very minor violations, things that other coaches would never discipline for. To think what this program and this team has done, not for ourselves but for this university.”
Despite the celebration of Baylor’s eighth-straight Big 12 title, no one wanted to look over and see Kristy Wallace on crutches. She went down with a right knee injury early in the second quarter and didn’t return.
“I know that if she could play, she would have been back out there, so it must be serious,” Mulkey said. “She’s not going to leave the ballgame. So I’m sure they’ll get an MRI, and you know what those results could be.”
Wallace returned to the court at halftime for Baylor’s senior night ceremony with the help of her fellow senior and co-captain Dekeiya Cohen. When Cohen’s name was announced, there was no way she was leaving Wallace. The two seniors walked out to midcourt together as Wallace struggled to put any weight on her right leg.
The way Cohen helped Wallace to center court, and the way the rest of the Lady Bears rallied around the Australia native at halftime was the same way they elevated their play on the court in her absence.
“I can’t say enough about five kids that just gutted it out against a very physical, well-coached West Virginia team,” Mulkey said. “Guys, we weren’t out there playing somebody that can’t play. And Juicy goes out there and plays the point. And Moon gets out there and does what she does. Just couldn’t be prouder of a basketball team.”
Juicy Landrum led Baylor with 20 points and seven assists, followed by Dekeiya Cohen with 18 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks. Lauren Cox added 17 points and 16 rebounds, while Kalani Brown finished with 14 points and eight rebounds.
Landrum took over point guard duties, the same position she played at La Vega. She mentioned earlier this season that she prefers to pass the ball in stead of shoot it. Against West Virginia, Landrum not only orchestrated the offense but was also more assertive in attacking the basket.
“She handled it, and she handled it against pressure,” Mulkey said.
Then there was Moon Ursin who stepped in at shooting guard. The freshman’s play on the defensive end was exceptional, which was clearly evident as the game clock counted down in the second quarter. Chania Ray was close to half court, dribbling the shot clock down before making her move. She never got to make her move, though, as Ursin pestered her until Ray turned the ball over. Ursin finished with six points, four rebounds and three assists.
“Heck yeah, she played well,” Mulkey said. “Juicy played well. Moon hadn’t been put in that situation. It’s called opportunity knocked, and she wasn’t as nervous as she is sometimes and just went out there and played. I’m just happy for those two kids, in particular, because the other three are normal starters. Juicy steps in for Chou when Chou goes out. Moon steps in tonight for Wallace.”
Cohen was the senior leader Baylor needed out on the court, pushing her teammates to give a little more and being the glue for the team that’s she’s been all season. Cohen was all over the Mountaineers defensively and continued to hustle for rebounds.
Cox, with Wallace out, became Baylor’s 3-point assassin. The 6-foot-4 forward went 4-for-7 from the perimeter. She also had a pair of blocks that each looked like volleyball kills.
“I just think it was open, and I know I can shoot that shot,” Cox said. “Coach Mulkey gives me the freedom to shoot it, and tonight it was falling for me.”
Brown continued to be the consistent presence down low for the Lady Bears. While she went to work inside offensively, she also banged around with the West Virginia bigs in the lane as well.
Cohen, Landrum, Cox and Brown each played every minute of Monday night’s contest.
“They were gassed,” Mulkey said. “And I had three timeouts left, I could have used them. I felt like we were going to outlast them. I thought both teams were fatigued and we had the lead, why would I call a timeout. Just a proud, proud coach of a gutsy basketball team that was dealt a lot of things, not just tonight, guys, this year. Good grief, how much more can this team take.”
When the time came for Mulkey to substitute for Cohen toward the end of the game, Natalie Chou went in with the biggest smile on her face. The sophomore, who has been out with a wrist injury, was cleared to play Monday.
“I think Natalie was happier than anyone,” Mulkey said. “She got the ol’ offensive line club hand that they play with in football. She handled it pretty dang well there in the end if you ask me. It’s just a little hard cast and you put a lot of cushion, I guess, and you have to get it cleared by the officials to make sure it’s not dangerous. They did. ... She can play. She’s been practicing full steam ahead.”
As Cohen walked toward the bench, she waved to the crowd of 6,671 who all stood to their feet to applaud the efforts of the senior.
“It was definitely bittersweet,” Cohen said. “We’re blessed to have gotten here and go undefeated and close out conference very well. But Kristy going down definitely hurt. She never really gets hurt, and for her to get hurt on senior night, it’s just a freak accident. If she has anything to do with it, I know she’ll fight to get back. I’m not worried about her. If she’s out, then it’s God’s plan. I’ve been there before, and I’ll help her get through it. We got to make history together, me and her.”
Freshmen Alexis Morris and Didi Richards did not play due to violation of team rules.
“They’ll lift those freshmen up that I disciplined tonight, because it’s really not a big deal,” Mulkey said. “I’m sending a message. I think the last time I did that was we played A&M here and Jessica Morrow was a starter, and I sat her. You don’t like to do it, but sometimes you have to.”
Baylor heads to Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City for the Big 12 tournament.