If you haven’t watched this Baylor team, and only go by what’s on paper, you see a No. 3 national ranking and a team that’s one of the tops in the country in both field goal percentage and field goal percentage defense. You know about the front court duo, whether you’ve heard about them or just look at their stats. You see the Lady Bears have nine on their roster with a pair of seniors and a junior.
But what you’re missing out on, what doesn’t show up on that paper, is the poise this team plays with. That was on full display, especially late in the fourth quarter, as Baylor held off Oklahoma, 74-65, Monday night inside the Ferrell Center.
“It was just two teams battling,” Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey said. “That made it entertaining. That kept everybody here. They didn’t leave at halftime. Decent crowd (5,324) for a late night game that was on TV. Compliment the crowd for coming.”
After a bucket by Oklahoma’s Maddie Manning tied the game at 60 with 5:22 left in the game, the only tie of the contest, that poise is expected from the upperclassmen. Kristy Wallace continued to dive all over the floor, make the hard but calculated drives and dish it to a teammate or go up for the bucket herself. Dekeiya Cohen was all over the place, shooting 5-for-8 from the floor. Kalani Brown was a presence inside.
But one of the biggest sequences of the night came by Didi Richards. The freshman, who couldn’t contain herself and had to let loose a few dance moves while she stood on the sidelines waiting to inbound the basketball as the music blared inside the Ferrell Center.
With 2:14 to play, Richards sank a layup to put Baylor up by three before the forward found herself at the free-throw line with Baylor holding onto a four-point lead with 35 seconds left. Richards came into Monday’s contest with the second-lowest free-throw percentage on the team. But she didn’t care. She nailed both shots to give Baylor a six-point edge.
Just because she made the big shots, Richards didn’t relax on the defensive end. She was defending Gabbi Ortiz, who went off in the second half with her step-back jumper behind the perimeter. Ortiz scored all of her 14 points in the second half. But Ortiz barely got a touch, and definitely didn’t have any kind of look at the basket, as Richards made her a non-factor. It ended up being an empty possession for the Sooners as Maddie Manning missed a shot.
“Didi is to be complimented,” Mulkey said. “She did her job. She made the big free throws when it was a (four-point) game. She is long and can battle in there for rebounds. She helped us.”
The Baylor defense collectively held Oklahoma to 2-9 from the floor the final 5:22 of the game. That defensive stand came after the Sooners opened the fourth quarter shooting 3-for-7 from the floor to spur a 9-1 run.
“We had some bad turnovers,” Mulkey said. “(Oklahoma) got the adrenaline going and they just got a little bit physical. They got in passing lanes better. They played extremely hard in a span there. It was a game. They could have won it. Whoever was going to make the plays at the end was going to win that game. We just happened to make plays.”
The Lady Bears didn’t take long to answer after Manning’s bucket tied the game. Wallace had the ball on the right side of the floor and drove baseline. When a defender helped over, Wallace dumped the ball off to an open Brown to put Baylor back up by two. Lauren Cox drained a jumper the following possession to put the Lady Bears up by four, but it was Manning again, with an and-1 play, to cut the Baylor lead to one.
From that point on, it was all Baylor. Wallace scored five points the rest of the way, every one of them from the free-throw line. Richards added three points, while Cohen made a bucket.
Overall, the Lady Bears finished shooting 53.6 percent from the floor as Cox led the way with 24 points, followed by Cohen with 15 and Brown with 10. Richards had 9.
“I thought Lauren Cox saved the day for us in the first half,” Mulkey said. “I thought Dekeiya battled and was consistent in there. I thought Didi Richards was the difference in the game off the bench.”
Twenty-six of Baylor’s makes were assisted as Wallace finished with 12 assists on the night. She also had six rebounds and a pair of blocks.
“That’s why you can’t take her off the floor,” Mulkey said. “She may have gone 2-for-12 but all those other things are what helps up win the ball game. I hate it, but she’s used to playing that much. That’s Kristy. She’s like the Energizer Bunny out there.”
For Oklahoma, it was Vionise Pierre-Louis with a team-high 19 points, followed by Shaina Pellington and Ortiz each with 14 points. Manning added 13 points as the Sooners finished shooting 40.7 percent from the floor.
“It was two competitive teams trying to play their best for something,” Mulkey said. “What do we have, six games left? They’re all going to be like this. We’re all fatigued mentally and physically this time of the year. We know each other well. It’s just going to be battles like this.”