"Who would have thunk it?" Baylor head coach, Kim Mulkey said.
Who would have indeed. The Baylor Lady Bears (31-4) came out and blitzed the seventh-seeded California Golden Bears (22-10) in the second half in route to advancing to their sixth consecutive Sweet 16 appearance 75-57 in front of 5,648 Lady Bear faithful.
Mulkey, borrowing the phrase from "her mother from the country," is being ecstatic about her Baylor team moving on to the regional semi-final.
The Baylor Bears have experienced their share of super stars come through, but it seems something about Odyssey Sims is different. the Big 12 Player of the years finished with 27 points on 9-of-25 shooting. She had 17 points in the second half.
In a very aggressive first half, the Golden Bears shot 5-of-7 to open the game, pushing out to an early 11-8 lead, which would be their largest of the contest. Baylor limited the Golden Bears to just 8-of-24 for the rest of the first half.
With Sims picking up her second foul with just over eight minutes to go in the half, and Baylor trailing 21-20, Kadijiah Cave was once again vital for the Lady Bears with Sims out. She scored eight of her 10 points over the final eight minutes, including six within a span of two minutes
A 13-2 run that spanned over 4 1/2 minutes capped off a tremendous second half for the Lady Bears. They pinned a rose on the run off a Sims 3-pointer that could've hit from NBA range.
"I wasn't aware how far I was out," said Sims. "I just saw the shot clock was running down and shot it."
Nina Davis contributed 13 points and six rebounds in tonight's victory over Cal. She was a big reason why the Cal forwards struggled all game long in the paint, scoring just 28 points. Niya Johnson had 11 assists, and five points, while taking care of the ball, just two turnovers.
"We just weren't putting the ball in the basket," said Cal junior Brittany Boyd. "We had some key turnovers down the stretch. We fought all the way until the end, but we made some key mistakes down the stretch."
Throughout the first half, Baylor and California tussled, went back and forth. Throughout the first half, there were 17 different lead changes, The last lead change came from Imani Wright, a freshman, draining a Baylor money ball with 18 seconds remaining to put the Baylor Bears up 34-33 at the break.
In her final game, Afure Jemerigbe, finished with 17 points on 8-of-15 shooting.
"I wouldn't trade being at Cal for anything in the world, said Jemerigbe. She played her last game at Cal tonight. "I came to the program and we weren't on the map yet and we wanted to establish ourselves. I wouldn't take the Final Four back for anything. It was a great experience. It wasn't that outcome this year, but you know I love my girls. I love my team and I'm happy they came out here and fought.
Cal's 79 wins over the last three seasons are the most during a three-year span at Cal. The school went to the 2013 Final Four, and returned a young squad, led by Jemerigbe. Boyd, the Nancy Lieberman award nominee, finished with 15 points on 4-of-12 shooting and had seven assists and seven turnovers.
Coming out of halftime, Mulkey's Lady Bears made the right adjustments, and jumped out to a quick 40-33 lead with 16:56 remaining in the half. After Cal had battled back to tie it at 44-all off a Boyd jumper, the Lady Bears countered with a quick 7-2 that put them back up 53-46 with 10:55 remaining.
Boyd sank the lay up with 8:27 remaining, cutting the Lady Bear's lead to 57-52. That's when Baylor went into championship defense mode.
Baylor's 13-2 run over the span of 6:49 iced anything Cal could do offensively. Once a wide open lane for easy, uncontested shots, were now met with hands in their face and bodies being bumped.
And of course, Sim's scoring prowess putting the game out of reach, scoring 11 of the 13 points during the run.
"We beat them a little bit getting back, said Sims. "and we made them pay for it."
When the game was over, the three seniors, Sims, Makenzie Robertson, and Mariah Chandler all skipped along the outlying of the court. In four years of play here at Baylor, the trio lost just two home games. Over their four years at Baylor, the seniors amassed a 76-2 record at home.
Baylor will play the Kentucky Wildcats in South Bend, Ind. on March 29th, Saturday. These teams have a history as they played in the highest scoring game women's Division 1 game in history. Kentucky won 133-130 in 4OT. They'll get a second act on Saturday. Sims had 47 points in the loss.
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