WACO, Texas – Great players make game-winning plays when it matters most. Often that greatness comes in a vacuum of effort – the player makes a play or plays without the perspective of those watching those plays.
With a sixth consecutive Sweet 16 appearance on the line and a Cal team battling Baylor basket for basket, Odyssey Sims took over. She scored 11 points and assisted on another basket to spark a 22-6 game-clinching victory as the second-seeded Lady Bears advanced with a 75-56 victory.
Baylor (31-4) advances to the Notre Dame Regional semifinals in South Bend, Ind. The Lady Bears will face No. 3 seed Kentucky Saturday. The Wildcats won their second-round game on their home court Monday night, defeating No. 6 seed Syracuse, 64-59.
“I didn’t realize that,” Sims said of her game takeover.
Sims capped her odyssey with a 3-pointer from NBA distance.
“I didn’t know how far out I was,” said Sims, who finished with 27 points, eight rebounds, six assists and three steals. “I knew the shot clock was winding down. I guess you could say it was the dagger.”
And you would be correct. That shot with 4:31 to play capped a 13-2 run that gave Baylor a 66-52 lead. With the visitors struggling to score, a 14-point lead was more than adequate.
"She pretty much knows what we want to do in that situation. She let it fly before we do what we normally do," said Baylor coach Kim Mulkey. "That's one of those shots … ‘What is she going … that's a great shot.’ Typical Odyssey.”
For the first 30 minutes, the Lady Bears battled the Pac-12 Bears to a standoff. Cal (22-10) reached the Final Four last season and features junior guard Brittany Boyd, along with Sims a finalist for the Lieberman Award that goes to the nation’s top point guard. The Bears also have a number of tall and athletic front court players.
Those post players, though, combined to make just seven of 22 shots. Reshanda Gray, a 6-2 junior averaging 17.3 points and 8.9 rebounds per game, scored two points with four rebounds before fouling out.
We didn’t want her to have very many shot attempts and I thought we were very successful at that,” Mulkey said. “I thought we just battled and battled and battled in the paint.”
Baylor got a huge boost from freshman Khadijiah Cave. When Sims and Nina Davis went to the bench with two fouls and 7:23 remaining in the first half, the Lady Bears trailed 21-20. Cave scored eight of her 10 points (she finished 5-of-5 from the field) and Baylor led at halftime 34-33.
“I thought Kay Kay was unbelievable,” Mulkey said. “Kay Kay might be the only post player that could jump and leap and alter shots with their athletes in the paint. She certainly scored on them. I was really proud of Kay Kay tonight.”
Davis, who had 32 points and 10 rebounds in the first-round victory over Western Kentucky, worked hard for 13 points and six rebounds. Early in the second half she had consecutive shots blocked on one possession but after Cal failed on two point-blank shots, she beat the Bears down the floor for a breakaway layup.
“We beat them getting back a few times and we just kept pushing the issue,” Sims said.
“If you think we made it look easy, it wasn’t,” Davis said. “It was a very physical game. They have a lot of athletes and they were jumpin’ out of the gym.”
It was the final game in the Ferrell Center for seniors Sims, Makenzie Robertson and reserve Mariah Chandler. After the game, they made their way around the court for a farewell to a venue where they lost two home games in four years.
The next stop is South Bend, Ind. Baylor will be joined by No. 5 seed Oklahoma State, which beat No. 4 Purdue on its home court Monday night. The Cowgirls will take on top-seeded and undefeated Notre Dame.
Baylor and Kentucky meet for the second time this season. In early December at AT&T Center in Arlington Stadium, the teams staged the highest-scoring Division I women's game as the Wildcats won 133-130 in four overtimes.
After losing Brittney Griner and four seniors from a team that lost in the regional semifinals in a monumental upset, this younger edition of the Lady Bears has reached the same point in the post-season.
"Who woulda thunk it," Mulkey said, borrowing a phrase from her mom.