A 36-0 deficit from three means nothing as Baylor grinds their way to the national championship game.
TAMPA — The storyline coming in was obvious to all: would Oregon’s high-power offense be able to negate the size disadvantage they had, or would Baylor inflict their will in the paint.
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As it turned it, it was kind of both. When it mattered most, however, Baylor shut it down defensively and rode a late 11-4 run to victory, 72-67.
“People wanted to talk about, ‘oh, you haven’t had any tight games’. Listen, I’m telling you: our practices are hard,” said Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey. “Our practices prepare us for these moments.”
It would be hard to argue with that logic, as Baylor never looked flustered, even after Oregon took an 11-4 lead and forced Mulkey to take a timeout.
After coming out of the huddle, the dynamic post duo of Kalani Brown and Lauren Cox did seem more prepared for the double teams of the Ducks, something that allowed Cox to rack up 7 assists to go along with her 21 points and 11 rebounds. Brown contributed 22 points and 7 rebounds, including several key rebounds later.
“She finally started going to the offensive boards like, ‘hey, I’m 6’7, I’m coming in here and you’re gonna have to stop me,” said Mulkey. “I tell Kalani all the time if she could ever get mean for 40 minutes, she would be dangerous. She’s a gentle giant.”
Regardless of the opponent on Sunday, the size factor will still be in the Lady Bears favor, but the defensive effort of two other players could really be key, something Mulkey found to be true tonight.
“Didi Richards and Juicy Landrum,” Mulkey said when asked what was key in holding Oregon star Sabrina Ionescu to 0-for-7 shooting in the 4th quarter. “Didi has length. She’s bugging you, she’s active… look, they are really hard to defend. But our goal is to hold teams to 39.9% shooting. They shot 36.8. You’re going to win a lot of basketball games if you do that.”
For Cox, she picked a great time for her second highest-scoring outing of the night, including a huge jumper that cut Oregon’s lead to one with 5:58 left in the 4th. Appropriately, she also sank two free throws with 18 seconds left to put Baylor up three, then secured the game’s final rebounds as Maite Cazorla’s meaningless three fell short.
Two locks to be drafted in the 1st round of the next two WNBA draft, Brown and Cox have earned the right to be called twin towers in the paint. They are now 40 minutes away from being called something even better: national champions.
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