Baylor Bears

Baylor women roll into Big 12 title match with Texas

Baylor coach Kim Mulkey yells from the sideline during the second half oh the Lady Bears’ Big 12 semifinal victory over Oklahoma State. Mulkey says she was hired to win championships, and the Bears go for the Big 12 crown Monday night against Texas.
Baylor coach Kim Mulkey yells from the sideline during the second half oh the Lady Bears’ Big 12 semifinal victory over Oklahoma State. Mulkey says she was hired to win championships, and the Bears go for the Big 12 crown Monday night against Texas. AP

Why should Monday’s Big 12 Women’s Championship final even matter to Baylor?

Win or lose, the Lady Bears will be a top-two seed in whichever region they are placed.

They’ve already wrapped up the regular-season conference title this year and have five Big 12 tournament dating to 2005.

Even coach Kim Mulkey said nothing short of a national championship game spikes her adrenaline anymore.

What’s different about this team compared with the last four that each claimed a Big 12 tournament crown is its youth and inexperience. And that’s why the title bout still matters.

“I know they’re as competitive as the other teams,” Mulkey said. “They may not be as experienced and certainly they’re not as mature and they’re not older; they’re younger, but I don’t know that their vibe is any different. They made it this far, let’s go win it.”

Baylor defeated Oklahoma State 69-52 on Sunday in a semifinal win that was more dominating than the score indicated.

The sixth-ranked Lady Bears (29-3) shot 45 percent from the field, 33 percent from behind the arc and led by as much as 31 points midway through the second half, when Mulkey pulled her starting five for the remainder of the game.

Sophomore forward Nina Davis, the Big 12 player of the year, had a field day, racking up 29 points on 12-of-17 shooting from the field and got 10 minutes of rest at the end of the game.

Junior point guard Niya Johnson, who finished with 10 points and three assists, is the engine that moves Baylor’s high-scoring offense, Oklahoma State coach Jim Littell said.

“I told her at the end of the game I think she’s one of the premier point guards in the country about decision-making, getting the ball where it needs to be and not turning it over,” he said. “Baylor gets a good shot at the basket every time down, and it’s because of Niya Johnson.”

Baylor now has an extra game to home in on what Mulkey says this team lacks from those of years past that have made deep runs in the NCAA Tournament.

“I think we are better defensively than we were when the season started, but we’re not anywhere near where we have to be to really contend for a Final Four or national championship,” Mulkey said. “There’s just so much physical play involved, and we lose rebounds. You’ve got to be able to defend one-on-one in some situations, and if you can’t, you’ve got to be very good help-side, and sometimes we don’t do that, we don’t communicate.”

Texas is the Lady Bears’ title-game opponent, beating Oklahoma 59-46 in Sunday’s second semifinal. The Lady Bears notched a definitive 75-58 win over the Longhorns at home on Jan. 19, but won a 70-68 squeaker Feb. 8 in Austin.

Baylor is unlike most women’s basketball programs in that it can typically turn to the national tournament when there are still conference-tournament games remaining.

“I wasn’t hired at Baylor to win games; that era of basketball, that era of sports at Baylor is over,” Mulkey said. “You’re there now as a coach, you’re there now as a player to win championships, and you have to maintain it. That’s the hard part. It’s just so difficult to maintain it. I think it’s more difficult to maintain it than it is to win your first one.”

Texas thwarts Oklahoma

Imani McGee-Stafford had 11 points and 10 rebounds as Texas advanced to its first Big 12 tournament championship game since 2004 with a 59-46 win over Oklahoma.

McGee-Stafford’s layup with 5:15 left wrapped up a 14-0 run that put the Longhorns (22-9) up by 10 points.

Brady Sanders also had 11 points for preseason Big 12 favorite Texas, which defeated TCU 67-61 late Saturday in the Big 12 quarterfinals.

Oklahoma (20-11) made only 26 percent of its field goals (15 of 58), and went without one for more than 10 minutes in the first half before Gabbi Ortiz made a 3-pointer with six seconds left.

Peyton Little and Gioya Carter each had 11 points for the Sooners, who led 34-30 on a 3-pointer by Carter with 10:35 left before the late Texas run.

This article includes material from The Associated Press.

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