SOUTH BEND, Ind. – More and more, it's becoming obvious that Baylor is more than the Odyssey Sims Show.
The second-seeded Lady Bears reached the championship game of the Notre Dame Regional and avenged a December non-conference loss not because Sims put crooked numbers in her scoring column. Baylor won as a team, knocking off third-seeded Kentucky, 90-72 Saturday.
Last year's team, the defending national champions, lost in the regional semifinals. Sims was the only returning starter but this year's Baylor team is one victory away from the Final Four. The Lady Bears (32-4) take on top-seeded Notre Dame (35-0) at 6:30 p.m. Monday.
"How can you not be proud?" Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. "We didn't talk about his being an Elite Eight team. We've been getting better because the freshmen are getting better and better. I tend to like the effort that the freshmen have. They just work.
"I watched us get better and better. I knew we'd go pretty deep in this tournament."
Sims, who spent much of the season as the nation's leading scorer, scored just 62 points in a four-game stretch to end the season. She had 58 in the two NCAA victories before Saturday.
Against Kentucky (26-9), a team she torched for 47 in a four-overtime loss, Sims had a team-high 25.
"I started out 0-for-6 but I knew that I was going to keep shooting the ball no matter what," said Sims, who finished 11-of-23. "My teammates give me confidence when I don't have it sometimes."
She returned the favor with seven assists. One was particularly telling. After a Kentucky turnover, Sims saw freshman Nina Davis on a run out and her one-handed, three-quarter court pass found Davis for an easy layup. That capped a 16-2 run to give the Lady Bears a 20-7 lead at the 11:40 mark of the first half.
Davis finished with 20 points and 8 rebounds. Fellow freshman Khadijiah Cave came off the bench to score a career-high 18 along with nine rebounds. In her last six games, Cave is averaging 8.8 points and 5.2 rebounds a game.
"Cave was a huge factor for them," Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said.
The pre-game consensus was that the teams' epic, record-breaking meeting on Dec. 6 (four overtimes, a record 263 points) would have no impact on the Sweet 16 game. For Kentucky's Jennifer O'Neill, it was night and day.
The junior guard scored a school-record 43 in Kentucky's 133-130 victory. O'Neill finished with eight, all from the line. She was 0-of-12 from the field, including 0-of-5 on threes. The Wildcats missed nine of their 12 shots from beyond the arc.
"Leading scorer goes 0 for 12, not a real good recipe for moving forward in this kind of environment in the tournament," Mitchell said. "It's hard to fathom how that kid can go 0 for 12. She didn't try to do that. I thought she took some bad shots at times, but some were really good they just didn't go."
After the Wildcats closed to within 32-28 with just under five minutes left in the first half, Baylor responded with a 17-2 blitz. Sims had eight points and Cave four during that run.
Kentucky was just 9-of-36 (25 percent) in the first half and warmed up to stay within range in the second half. The Wildcats closed to within 77-64 with 4:16 remaining but their light was snuffed out on Baylor's next possession.
With the shot clock ticking toward zero, sophomore Niya Johnson (11 points and 11 assists) found Makenzie Robertson open on the left wing. Her 3-pointer swished to beat the clock and give Baylor an 80-64 lead. Robertson's fist-pumped the air in celebration.
Robertson, along with Sims the only senior starter this season, spent three seasons as a reserve during the Brittney Griner Era.
"This does not really compare because it has been so different," she said. "With what we lost, we did not really know what to expect but that gave us the motivation to prove people wrong and it means the world that we have come this far and taken it one game at a time."