Two dominating posts also dominate the headlines for Baylor, but it was a guard from Cypress, Texas that was the real star last night.
It’s easy to be enamored with Kalani Brown and Lauren Cox when you watch Baylor play. The footwork. The rebounding prowess. The sheer size of them both. The two of them combined for 43 points and 18 rebounds in their Final Four win over Oregon, the offensive cogs per usual in the Lady Bears offense.
Didi Richards, however, was the one who won them the game.
Tasked with near impossible burden of slowing down Oregon superstar Sabrina Ionescu, Richards not only accepted the assignment but excelled. Ionescu shot 6-for-24 on the night and while she scored 18 points, she never looked in rhythm.
“It felt good; this is what I live for,” Richards said of her performance. “I am on this team to play defense, to be the defensive stopper.”
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While that is certainly true, the emergence of Richard’s offensive game has come at the perfect time and been a real boost to the Lady Bears. Scoring 15 points against Oregon, Richards has now scored double-digit points for three straight games, the first time in her career that she has done that.
“I think DiDi has figured out that she’s not going to be a liability on the offensive end when people don’t guard her,” said Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey. “So she cuts to the basket, she finds open areas to do good things. She’s very confident. She took a critical shot there late in the game, and she didn’t hesitate to do that. Now, that comes from her being confident.”
Richards, while agreeing with Mulkey’s assessment on her confidence, was quick to point out that her shouldering a bigger load offensively makes it even easier for Cox and Brown down low, and that’s what matters most.
“Without me scoring, they (Brown and Cox) are going to be getting double and triple-teamed all night,” Richards said. “I don’t want my posts having to go through that, especially if we are going to win a national championship.
The performance against Ionescu was one deserving of longer praise and discussion, but with Arike Ogunbowale and Notre Dame looming, the attention has already turned to Sunday night.
“I feel like I just got to play off of my defensive principles. Which is to keep her (Ogunbowale) in front of me,” Richards said. “The difference is that Arike wants the last shot, she wants the ball in her hand when the shot clock is winding down. I just have to keep my head on a swivel and keep her in front of me.”
It’s another difficult task for the 6’1 sophomore, but one she has proven to be well capable of. If Baylor is able to win their third national championship on Sunday, you’ll know that Brown and Cox had strong performances, but without Didi Richards, the Lady Bears would never have been there in the first place.
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