Oklahoma City, OK -- No. 5 seed Oklahoma and No. 1 seed Baylor may be one of the most interesting historical matchups in this Big 12 tournament. Baylor is the defending champion and has beat Oklahoma 11 out of their last 12 matchups and won the last 5 Big 12 championships.
But Baylor has never beaten Oklahoma in this particular tournament, as the Sooners handed them their last loss in 2007. History would not repeat itself it today, though, as Baylor defeated Oklahoma convincingly, one game away from defending their Big 12 crown.
"I thought several things were key to the game today to keep the crowd out of it, because it's -- you know, you're playing in OU's backyard," said Baylor coach Kim Mulkey when discussing the challenge they faced in playing the Sooners in Oklahoma. "I thought our defense had to be much better than it was the two previous times that we played them.
"I thought that our bench had to be better than their bench, and I thought we had to get to the foul line and make free-throws. I thought we did all three as good as we can do it."
The mood was intense from the tip with the Lady Bears coming out aggressive in their pursuit of points in the paint. The Sooners attempted to match their stride with Gabbi Ortiz, Gioya Carter, and Kaylon Williams getting some quick layups early.
However, Baylor went on an 8-2 run led by Nina Davis and Alexis Jones, who were driving the lane at will. Their offense looked smooth and effortless, their active defense creating opportunities for easy transition buckets which they took advantage of.
The Bears went on a run where they made 5-5 field goal attempts and forced three turnovers on four possessions for Oklahoma. Gioya Carter threw up a desperation three that banked in, but after that, the Sooners did not make another field goal in the quarter.
They got a few open looks and just could not connect, while Baylor continued to make tough shots despite good defense on the part of Oklahoma. The end of the first quarter saw the Bears up 26-12, shooting an astounding 73.3% from the field with 20 points in the paint.
The second quarter was much of the same with Baylor turning their defense into offense and the Sooners unable to stop them in transition. Oklahoma struggled mightily from the field and failed to take advantage of the opportunities they did have, going just 58% from the foul line.
If it wasn't bad enough for the Sooners that Baylor was dominating in the paint, they then made back to back threes courtesy of Alexis Prince and Alexis Jones to take the lead to 20 points. They finished 75% from beyond the arc in the half compared to just 30% for Oklahoma.
They were truly firing on all cylinders, getting every player on their team involved and daring the Sooners to try to rip their title hopes away. A jumper from Alex Jones with 3 seconds left on the clock brought the half to an end with a score of 47-28 Lady Bears. Alexis Jones finished the half with 14 points.
Oklahoma came out with a different defensive set that seemed to be working the first few minutes as they forced a slew of turnovers from the Lady Bears and kept them from scoring for the first 3 and a half minutes of the third quarter.
Oklahoma went on a mini-run during this time until Kalani Brown hit a jumper that sparked an 8-0 run by Baylor and brought the lead back to 20 where it remained for the majority of the quarter which ended with a score 63-44.
The sheer physicality and size of Baylor seemed to require so much of the Sooners' energy and may have contributed to their shots being off the mark on the other end of the court. Easy shots around the basket that would be automatic normally were not falling.
They never stopped fighting, but you could see the fatigue start creeping in, especially for Kaylon Williams and Vionise Pierre- Louis having to battle with Brown and Teague down low. Williams fouled out with 6:50 left to go in the ball game, a major loss for Oklahoma.
The stifling defense and great play of the Lady Bears' big three All-Big 12 first team players; Davis, Brown and Johnson, was ultimately too much to handle for the Sooners to handle and their championship hopes ended when the buzzer sounded with a score of 84-57 Baylor. The main stat to look at in this game was points in the paint, with Baylor doubling Oklahoma's efforts 44-22.
Jones had an inspiring game, finishing with 19 points and 11 rebounds with Davis bringing in 15 points and Johnson helping out with 9 rebounds.
"I mean, it gave us time to -- we turned the ball over a lot," said Jones. "So I guess it gave us time to make the mistakes that we had made during the game. But also, we knew that we couldn't let up because they came back on us in their home court. So we knew we just couldn't let up, so we kept trying to fight and keep pushing through it."
For the Sooners, Wyatt, Carter and Manning all finished in double figures. Head Coach Sherri Coale talked about Baylor's dominance in the game and how it got out of reach: "It began early. We got shocked in transition and Maddie got a couple of great offensive boards, and they poked it lose, and we know that's what they do. They go after you. No matter what, you've got to be able to hang on to the basketball.
"And from that point forward, I felt like we were disheveled and like a boxer who got his bell rung for a little bit. They continued to play well, and we never recovered.
Sherri's team will now prepare for their road to the NCAA tournament. Baylor will face the winner of today's matchup of No.2 seed Texas vs. No.4 seed West Virginia in the championship game tomorrow night at 8 pm CST.