KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Life, as our parents always told us, isn’t fair. Basketball being a part of life means that hoops can be part of the inequities.
When Baylor is playing at the high level it reached Friday, it’s great for the team’s passionate fans but it seems unfair to the opponent.
The top-seeded and third-ranked Lady Bears rolled into the title game of the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship game with an 86-53 victory over fourth-seeded Kansas State. It was the largest margin of a victory in a semifinal since 2000 when Iowa State beat Nebraska by 37 points.
Baylor, which has reached the championship game for the fourth time in the last six years, will face No. 2 seed Texas A&M at 11 a.m. Saturday at Municipal Auditorium. The Aggies defeated No. 3 seed Oklahoma, 81-68, in the second semifinal. The Lady Bears have two victories over Texas A&M this season.
"If you don’t establish something inside against Baylor your life will be so difficult," said Kansas State coach Deb Patterson, whose team lost 75-48 to Baylor in Waco on Feb. 23. "If you get free to drive from the perimeter, you’ve got Britney Griner back their guarding the rim.
"And if you’re not hitting shots, it’s gonna be a long day."
Since suffering its only loss to a Big 12 team (56-45 at Texas Tech on Feb. 19), Baylor has outscored its last six opponents by the average score of 82.3 to 57.3.
Patterson called Baylor a "phenomenal, great, well-oiled and confident team." Those compliments might be understatements.
Britney Griner had 21 points, Destiny Williams scored 18 on seven-of-nine shooting and Odyssey Sims scored 14, making four-of-five from 3-point range. The Lady Bears made eight of their first 11 shots and started the second half making seven of nine.
"Our intensity was there, we came out ready to play," Sims said. "We knew we had to defend them. We knew the shot clock would be going down and we needed to defend for 30 seconds."
Baylor’s defense is all long arms, quick feet and greedy hands. The Lady Bears follow the rules - they only have five players on the court at once. Only their opponents are left with the feeling that they’re playing five on six.
The Lady Bears limited Kansas State to 35.1 percent shooting while committing just five fouls. The Wildcats were two-of-four from the free throw line while Baylor was 15-of-23.
"Every timeout we talk about defense," Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. "Every day we try to make our players as efficient on the defensive end as they can be. We’re probably quicker on the perimeter than Kansas State. We didn’t allow them to go off on us."
For the first 10 minutes, the Wildcats struggled to make a shot (two-of-10) and they struggled to beat the shot clock. Five of their first 12 possessions ended with the shot clock drained to less than five seconds.
To complement that stifling defense, the Lady Bears shooting accuracy translated into a 20-5 lead in the first eight minutes.
In addition to all their varied skills, Baylor is accomplished at crushing hope. Kansas State reserves Alina Voronenko and Kelsey Hill combined for 14 points to pull the Wildcats to within 28-19 with 5:56 to play in the first half. Was an upset – or at least a close game - in the making?
Nope. Sims responded with consecutive threes. From that point until the 12:15 mark of the second half, Baylor’s 34-13 run built a 30-point edge (62-32). Over that stretch, Kansas State missed 13 of 17 shots and the Lady Bears were 12 of 23.
"I still felt we were in control," Mulkey said when asked about Kansas State trimming the lead to nine points. "Our defense got us a lead and our defense allowed ‘em to cut it to 9 and our defense allowed us to built the lead back up."
By that point, Patterson had called four of her five timeouts and tried zone and man defensive alignments.
"They played a dominating game," Patterson said of Baylor. "In the first half we were keeping the game competitive. We failed to do that in the second half and that was beyond obvious. The rebounding numbers reflect that we didn’t get the job done with our effort."
Baylor out-rebounded Kansas State 52-24; the Lady Bears had 22 offensive rebounds. Even the Wildcats’ 3-point accuracy – 11 of 25 – couldn’t balance the box score or the final score. Kansas State was 9-of-32 inside the arc.
"They killed us on the boards," said the Wildcats’ Taelor Karr, who had 13 points. Baylor’s a great team and they’ll pick you apart and expose your weaknesses."