Brown leads No. 2 Baylor past No. 8 Texas in Big 12 final
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Baylor coach Kim Mulkey knew folks wondered if her team could win a big game after losing its starting point guard.
The Lady Bears answered emphatically. Freshman point guard Alexis Morris stepped in and scored 19 points to help No. 2 Baylor beat No. 8 Texas 77-69 in the Big 12 championship game on Monday night.
Morris became the starter after senior Kristy Wallace, an all-conference selection, tore her right ACL in the regular-season finale. Morris had one turnover in the title game and played all 40 minutes.
“It’s just kids gutting it out, and then you go out there and do it with a freshman,” Mulkey said. “Because, see, everybody was watching that. Can they do it without Kristy Wallace? And I kept telling y’all, the kid (Morris) can play.”
Mulkey wasn’t worried about the Lady Bears earning a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, yet she’s not sure they could have done much more to earn one.
“We ran the table in the Big 12,” she said. “We won the Big 12 Tournament. We did it without Kristy Wallace. Our only loss was to UCLA, who was ranked at the time.”
Kalani Brown scored 20 points in the final. The 6-foot-7 center was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player after averaging 24.7 points in three games. Lauren Cox had 13 points and 12 rebounds and Dekeiya Cohen added eight points and 12 rebounds for the Lady Bears (31-1), who won their 28th straight game.
It was Baylor’s third win over Texas this season. The Lady Bears did it with just one sub who played more than one minute.
“I’ve been around a lot of basketball, and this is going to go down as one of the gutsiest performances I’ve ever been a part of,” Mulkey said. “There wasn’t a lot of Xs and Os for me to draw up the last five minutes of that game.”
Baylor had won six straight tournament titles before losing last year’s championship game to West Virginia.
Lashann Higgs scored 20 points, Brooke McCarty scored 16 and Ariel Atkins and Jatarie White each added 12 for Texas (26-6).
Baylor led 35-33 at halftime. Baylor got 10 points from Brown and nine rebounds from Cohen before the break. Texas countered with 14 points from Higgs.
Brown drove for a layup in the closing seconds of the third quarter and Texas’ Jordan Hosey fouled her hard. Brown was helped off the court. No flagrant was called, and Brown returned after the review. Baylor led 52-46 at the end of the third quarter.
Juicy Landrum’s 3-pointer to start the fourth quarter pushed Baylor’s lead to nine, and it looked like the Lady Bears might be off and running to another one of their blowouts. Instead, Texas responded with a 9-0 run. Joyner Holmes’ layup with about seven minutes to play tied the score at 55, and McCarty’s 3-pointer with just over five minutes to play finally gave Texas the lead at 58-57.
“After we made that run, I thought we kind of let them off the hook a little bit by just not playing smart enough, overaggressive instead of just playing the tendencies of the players and make them take tough shots,” Texas coach Karen Aston said.
With Baylor leading 65-64 with 1:41 remaining, Cox was fouled by Holmes on a rebound. Aston didn’t like the call, and her argument drew her first technical foul of the season. Cox made four free throws to make it a five-point game.
“I felt like there was a lot going on at times that it just seemed to maybe in that moment — it felt like a nit-picky call based on everything that was going on, and it was a timely call, but also a timely technical, no question,” Aston said.
Texas: The Longhorns are in good shape for the NCAA Tournament. Their guards are formidable and their depth should serve them well.
Baylor: The Lady Bears lack depth, but their talent was enough. Morris showed she could lead the team and gained her teammates’ confidence.
Mulkey, on what she told Brown after the hard foul: “All I said was, ‘Your momma spanks you harder than that.’”
PITCH FOR A RIVAL?
Mulkey said Oklahoma should make the NCAA Tournament despite its 16-14 record. The Sooners tied for third in the Big 12 regular-season standings and lost to TCU in the tournament quarterfinals. Mulkey stood up for Oklahoma and coach Sherri Coale because of the Sooners’ strength of schedule.
“I’m going to plug the Big 12 here,” Mulkey said. “If strength of schedule is that important to the committee, you can’t leave Sherri Coale out. Doesn’t she have one of the toughest strength of schedules in the country? So you can’t have it both ways.”
Both teams will play in the NCAA Tournament.