By Wendell Barnhouse
WACO, Texas – For the first 15 minutes of the game, Nneka Enemkpali was defending and frustrating Nina Davis, Baylor’s leading scorer. The matchup of top 10 teams appeared headed for a classic finish.
Until disaster struck for the visitors.
Enemkpali, Texas’ 6-3 senior and double-double machine, went down screaming in pain after coming down with an offensive rebound. She was carried off the court and returned for the second half on crutches with her left knee wrapped.
And without the defensive presence that had hounded her, Davis scored 20 of her game-high 25 points as the third-ranked Lady Bears rolled to their 16th consecutive victory, a 75-58 victory over the Longhorns (14-3, 3-3).
“We don’t know(about Nneka) yet. Obviously it’s a concern of ours right now … I think it’s a reality she’s gonna be out for a little bit,” Texas coach Karen Aston said during her post-game interview nearly 30 minutes after the game. “Obviously a tough evening for our team. … We probably need to do some soul searching in terms of how we’re playing the game right now.”
Baylor (17-1, 6-0) is in a first-place tie atop the Big 12 standings with Oklahoma. The Sooners are 6-0 following their 73-54 Bedlam victory over Oklahoma State Monday afternoon.
“In the first half it was a game of runs,” Mulkey said. “After Nneka got hurt they outplayed us and we had to regroup.”
Davis helped with that. Baylor closed the half with a 10-0 run with Davis getting two run-the-floor layups on fast breaks.
“I just had to change my mind set and be more aggressive,” said Davis, who missed four of her first five shots but finished 9-of-16. “At the first I was kind of stagnant and standing around. We’re good at running the court and it’s easy baskets for us.”
During the Lady Bears’ 10-0 run, Texas had eight possessions that produced five turnovers and three missed shots.
“The last three weeks or so, we’ve been playing the game in waves and that’s not good enough against Baylor or the teams in our league,” said Aston, whose team committed 18 turnovers and shot 33.9 percent from the field. “We played in spurts and Baylor seemed hungrier for the basketball. You can’t make as many mistakes as we made.
“The end of the first half was a perfect example of how we’ve been playing of late. Perfect.”
Baylor junior point guard Niya Johnson was outstanding. She had 15 points, 12 assists and five rebounds – three on the offensive end.
“Niya is having a phenomenal year,” Mulkey said. “She leads the country in assists and she can score it if she needs to. Because she’s have a great year, we’re having a good year. At Kansas Saturday she had to come out early in the game with two fouls and we weren’t as good.”
Possessing the ball on the baseline under your own basket is like having a runner at third with less than two outs or a first-and-goal at the one. Texas had three such situations and the outcomes illustrated how Baylor made game-changing plays.
The Longhorns’ Brianna Taylor missed a layup on a well-executed out of bounds play and Baylor converted the miss into a fast break layup for Davis. Baylor’s Alexis Prince converted a layup after stealing an inbounds pass near midcourt and in the final two minutes Texas committed a five-second violation trying to inbound the ball.
The Lady Bears faced a size disadvantage but made up for it with hustle and scrappiness. Baylor wound up controlling over 75 percent of those “50-50” plays coaches love to talk about.
“I thought rebounding would be the key to the game,” Mulkey said. “They had not been out-rebounded all season and I challenged our kids. There was no dominant rebounder on either team and it was a team effort. We got long rebounds and the loose balls on the floor.
“Don’t ever let a team out-hustle you.”