Three is a magic number for the Baylor Lady Bears basketball team.
A day after Oklahoma State came within three points of dethroning the two-time defending Big 12 champions, Baylor stormed over Iowa State 75-47, claiming its record-setting third straight tournament championship Monday at the American Airlines Center.
But as this Baylor squad (32-1) faced the Big 12 for the last time with tournament MVP and history-making senior Brittney Griner, cutting down the nets after the conference tournament one last time seemed to be in the cards for the Lady Bears throughout Monday’s finale.
“Winning never gets old, especially this one,” Griner said. “I think I speak for the five seniors. We definitely wanted to get this win. We wanted to celebrate this; everybody did. This is our last go-around with the Big 12.”
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Iowa State’s defense keyed in on Griner to begin the game by stacking a four-man diamond zone in the low post, so Baylor went 3 for 5 from 3-point range in the first seven minutes.
Iowa State (23-8) adapted and spread, which was a cue for Griner to dominate the low post for a game-high 31 points that tied her own Big 12 championship game record. Her 14 field goals surpassed the previous Big 12 championship record of 12, which she shared previously.
“She’s a unique talent, a very special player that’s changed the dynamics certainly not of just Baylor basketball, but our league and the whole country,” Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly said.
As if a 41-13 halftime score wasn’t a big enough blow to the Cyclones, all hope of any kind of miracle comeback seemed to roll off the table with 30 seconds to play in the first half.
ISU sophomore guard and Euless Trinity alumnus Nikki Moody’s fast break layup attempt stalled on the back iron of the rim for what was nearly five seconds but seemed like an eternity before slowly rolling off the side of the rim and into Baylor guard Niya Johnson’s hands.
A career night for Griner wasn’t all for the Lady Bears as junior guard Odyssey Sims caught fire from 3-point range in the second half, which led to her total of 20 points. Monday was Sims’ 21st double-figure scoring game this season.
“When you look at a kid that works that hard on the defensive end of the floor, it’s good to see her have an offensive production like that and shoot the ball well,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said.
A 30-point Baylor lead late in the game gave Griner, Sims and senior Destiny Williams a chance to receive a moment of gratitude from the vastly pro-Baylor crowd as they each exited the game.
The magic was far from finished, however, as Johnson threw up a shot clock-beating 3-pointer from 10 feet behind the arc only to watch it splash through the net with just a tick left on the game clock.
The real stroke of luck will come in the next few days if the Bears receive the few days off from practice for which Sims and Griner jokingly pleaded on the postgame interview podium before beginning the journey through the NCAA Tournament.
“I think, like Brittney said, hopefully we get a couple days off,” Sims said with a laugh. “Whenever we start practicing again, we’ll get out there; nothing will change. Working on the basics — working on Baylor things that we normally work on — getting focused [is] our main goal.”