By Wendell Barnhouse
WACO, Texas – As our coaches always tell us, there is no “I” in “team.” There is an “A” in team and in Baylor. “A” in this case stands for “assist.”
The Lady Bears won their 22nd consecutive game and extended their lead in the Big 12 Conference with a commanding and controlling 89-66 victory over second place Oklahoma in the Ferrell Center Wednesday night.
"I think they're a very selfless team,” Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said. “They want to play together.”
Baylor (23-1, 12-0) is second nationally in assists and junior Niya Johnson leads the nation in assists. The Lady Bears are averaging an assist on 70 percent of their baskets and against the Sooners they obliterated that number, notching 32 assists on 35 field goals. Johnson tied a Big 12 record with 17 assists (the most ever in a league game) and had no turnovers in 30 minutes.
“She was playing against a team that was trapping, playing aggressive and causing deflections,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. “That is so impressive.”
Johnson finished one shy of the school record of 18, set by Darleen Primeaux in 1983.
"Honestly, I don't know how I do it,” said Johnson, who is averaging 8.7 assists and 2.2 turnovers per game. “I guess I just get it there at the right time. I couldn't have this many assists without my teammates making the shots. I was shocked when I heard I had 17 assists and zero turnovers.”
For Oklahoma, the game started with a lethal combination. The Sooners (15-8, 9-3) couldn’t make and the Lady Bears couldn’t miss. After pulling to within 7-5 at 17:21 on a layup by Gabbi Ortiz, OU went 6:34 without a point, missing 10 consecutive shots and committing five turnovers.
Baylor, which made six of its first eight shots, took advantage of the Oklahoma lull to go on a 20-0 run that made it 27-5 and forced a Coale timeout with 11:02 remaining in the first half.
“I thought Baylor played terrific and I thought we made ‘em look really good, too,” Coale said. “They were hitting on all cylinders, obviously, but our help defense was very poor and we weren’t connected defensively at all.
“They’re the type of team if they smell you being weak or frustrated, they come at you even harder. We were the recipient of that tonight.”
Sophomore Nina Davis, who before the game was presented with a commemorative basketball for becoming a 1,000-point scorer, played like she was anxious to get to 2,000. She made 12 of 15 shots and scored 31 points. Her 20 first-half points matched the Sooners’ output in the first 20 minutes.
“I think that was impressive about our defense, to hold a team like Oklahoma to just 20 points,” Mulkey said.
Baylor outscored Oklahoma 47-46 in the second half but the Sooners needed to do much better than match the Lady Bears. Last season, Oklahoma trailed by 32 points in the second half but rallied to make it a six-point game in the final minutes before losing 96-89.
"When we started the second half, I told them the score is 0-0," Mulkey said. "We just kept attacking them."
The Sooners pulled to within 67-51 with just over nine minutes to play but Baylor responded with a 9-0 run to secure its ninth consecutive victory over OU.
Oklahoma’s loss further disconnected Baylor from the rest of the Big 12. The Sooners and the Lady Bears are the only teams above .500 in Big 12 play. The eight teams in third through last are separated by two games.
“Yes, we’ve got a three-game lead and it’s better than a one-game lead had we lost tonight,” Mulkey said, noting that her focus now is focusing on Sunday’s game with West Virginia. “When we reach that point where we know we have a share of the title or have won the title, then we’ll celebrate.”
Continuing to share the basketball and play like it did Wednesday night and Baylor can start making plans for a celebration.