Baylor volleyball (22-12) saw its season come to a close with a three-set loss to the hosts, No. 10 UCLA Bruins (26-6), 21-25, 20-25, 20-25, on Saturday evening in Pauley Pavilion on the UCLA campus. From Baylor Bears dot com.
After winning the team's first postseason match since 2009, a five-set grinder with No. 14 San Diego on Friday, the Bears couldn't repeat the upset bid of the Bruins to advance to the Regional round.
Aniah Philo (16 kills) paced the Bears on offense, tying her career-high kill mark, set last season against Wake Forest before Philo transferred from Louisville.
Despite hitting an effective .205 in the match, BU couldn't slow the UCLA offense, with the Bruins posting a modest .261 hitting clip.
Senior setter Morgan Reed (37 assists, 10 digs) posted a double-double in her final collegiate match, leading both sides in the assist column.
Katie Staiger (698 kills in 2016) finished the season just two kills shy of the Big 12 single-season kills record, posting the second-highest kill total in Big 12 history, sitting at third in the nation in total kills, and setting a new program single-season record.
Senior Alex Banister posted two digs in her final match in a Baylor uniform, finishing off her second and final year with the Bears.
Baylor led in both digs (52-50) and blocks (7.5-6.0) in the match.
Morgan Reed, finishes her time in a Baylor uniform with 2,073 assists, the fifth-most assists in program-history in the rally-scoring era.
Baylor turns the page over to the 2017 spring and fall seasons, with 15 returning players and a strong crop of recruits with eyes set on a deeper run in NCAA postseason.
"We return everybody, but Morgan and Alex. It was great to see them finish strong. Disappointment is usually the start of a great journey, not the end. We were disappointed when Shelly was hurt, when Tola was hurt, when Jaelyn was hurt. I think we can hold on to the hope that it's not the end, it's the beginning. We learned something about ourselves this year as we learned to battle and fight. I talk about how our hard work has to come first and our trust has to come first. Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard. We'll know how to work hard and we're going to get some great talent. Healthy Shelly, healthy Tola, healthy Jaelyn, and some great recruits coming in, as well as the fire and hunger from the disappointment of the girls coming back." -head coach Ryan McGuyre.
"So proud of this team this year. The number of wins, the battles, the five set victories we've had. From Morgan's maturity to Jana's consistency, just the growth we've had. It's a special team for me, just because I've learned. They've inspired me and I've caught myself being discouraged at times, and when you see their resiliency and you see them getting back in the gym going hard, it makes me make sure we're giving them our best as a staff. It was fun as a staff this year and it was tiring, but these girls are fun to be around." - head coach Ryan McGuyre.
"The band and cheerleaders were awesome. I thought that set Baylor apart. San Diego didn't invest in that. It feels good to be loved. To feel loved when you're not at full strength makes some good things happen. To have the band and cheerleaders there walking out of the hotel was awesome. Little thigns make big things. Baylor and volleyball has grown so much, this is my second season. The investment they've put into these girls has turned into a difference maker for us as a team and for the girls." - head coach Ryan McGuyre on the support of the band, cheerleaders, and the Baylor community.
"It contributes a lot. It helps us, it's an advantage for us. We won the first round because we had the band for us, we had the cheerleaders for us. We had a crowd of fans that were cheering us on. We also had the fans, like our families, our parents, our cousins. It's an advantage for us and it definitely helped boost our game." - sophomore Aniah Philo on having the band and cheerleaders in the gym.
Baylor Lady Bears
- Alexis Jones finished a rebound shy of a triple-double while helping Baylor hand Tennessee one of the most thorough defeats the Lady Volunteers have ever suffered on their home floor. From Baylor Bears dot com.
Jones had a career-high 30 points to go along with 10 assists, nine rebounds and just one turnover Sunday as the fourth-ranked Lady Bears trounced No. 22 Tennessee 88-66, matching the Lady Vols' biggest home loss ever.
"I didn't know how close I was until I came out," Jones said. "And then they told me all I needed was a rebound."
Jones would have become the first Baylor player to ever post a triple-double that included points, rebounds and assists. Baylor's last triple-double came from Brittney Griner, who had 28 points, 10 rebounds and 10 blocks against West Virginia on March 2, 2013.
Baylor (9-1) scored the game's first 11 points and never looked back to earn its seventh straight victory. The Lady Bears led by as many as 35 points before coasting to victory in this SEC/Big 12 Challenge matchup.
"The one loss that we suffered this year, we felt that it was a lack of focus, a lack of mental toughness," Baylor forward Nina Davis said in reference to a 72-61 loss at Connecticut on Nov. 17. "We felt like we weren't aggressive. That's something that we're not trying to have happen again, so each and every game we're coming in with a mindset that we're going to come in and dominate from the beginning of the game to the end."
Davis had 20 points and nine rebounds for Baylor. Khadijiah Cave added 10 points.
Mercedes Russell had 22 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks for Tennessee. Jaime Nared had 19 points and 11 rebounds. Diamond DeShields added 13 points.
The only other time Tennessee (4-3) fell by as many as 22 points at home was a 74-52 loss to Texas on Dec. 1, 1985, at the old Stokely Athletics Center. Tennessee moved from Stokely to Thompson-Boling Arena in 1987-88.
The Lady Bears capitalized on their size to dominate this game from start to finish. Baylor outscored Tennessee 58-28 in points in the paint. Baylor didn't need much Sunday from Kalani Brown, who scored just two points. Brown entered the day averaging 14.2 points per game to rank second on the team.
Only a major discrepancy at the foul line prevented the score from being even more lopsided. Tennessee was 23 of 33 on free throws while Baylor was 7 of 9. Baylor didn't attempt a single free throw in the first half.
"I don't know if I've ever coached a game where we never shot a free throw until the middle of the third quarter - and you're winning (by) 35-40 points," Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. "I don't know how you explain that. We never got to the foul line. If you look, they shot three or four times as many free throws. That has to speak volumes for how well (our) team played."
Baylor hosts Texas State on Tuesday.
Win or lose, no matter what, I love this team! left it all out on the field just didn't end up like we wanted..— Zach Smith (@thezach_smith) December 4, 2016
On a day when West Virginia quarterback Skyler Howard certainly wasn't at his best, the Baylor Bears had a chance to knock off the 14th-ranked Mountaineers Saturday afternoon and snap a five-game losing streak. Baylor Bear Foundation’s Jerry has the complete story at Baylor Bears dot com.
But, this one followed an all-too-familiar script.
Turnovers once again proved to be the Bears' undoing as freshman quarterback Zach Smith fumbled twice and threw two picks in a 24-21 loss on the Mountaineers' home turf at Milan Puskar Stadium.
"We just have to take care of the ball," said Smith, who threw for 244 yards and two touchdowns, but was also sacked four times. "We went out there and played our butts off. A few plays here and there, a few things go our way, and it's a completely different ball game. We didn't execute like we needed to, and we didn't win."
After losing its previous four games by an average margin of 25 points, this was easily Baylor's best game since a 49-7 blowout victory over Kansas back on Oct. 15.
While the Bears couldn't hold an 11-point first-half lead, they out-gained the Mountaineers (10-2) in total yards, 440-422, and had a chance to pull off a miracle finish when Orion Stewart recovered an onside kick with 2:40 left.
But, when the play was reviewed, the replay official determined that linebacker Aiavion Edwards had blocked a West Virginia player before the ball had traveled the necessary 10 yards. The end result was a five-yard penalty and a re-kick, with the Mountaineers' Trevon Wesco recovering this time.
"The ruling from what I understand was we blocked them before they had the opportunity for the ball to hit their player," said Baylor coach Jim Grobe, whose team fell to 6-6 with its sixth straight loss. "Then, there was some controversy as to whether they blocked us to keep us away from the ball. So, it was a who blocked who kind of deal."
The Bears did get another shot after West Virginia was forced to punt. But, instead of getting the ball near midfield with 2:40 on the clock and one timeout still in their pocket, they got it at the 20 with 53 seconds showing and out of timeouts.
"It was very frustrating," said junior nickel back Travon Blanchard, who had eight solos and a career-high 15 tackles. "We teach ourselves not to leave the game in the hands of the officials or a call. We've just got to move on with that. We just have to control what we can control."
Eight days after an incredible comeback win over No. 10 Louisville, the ninth-ranked Baylor men faced another test against a highly ranked opponent Saturday afternoon at the Ferrell Center. By John Shellenberger, Baylor Bear Foundation, from Baylor Bears dot com.
On another big-time stage, this time against No. 7 Xavier, the Bears had a chance to prove their victories over No. 24 Michigan State, VCU, Louisville and No. 4 Oregon were no fluke.
Boy, did they prove it.
Playing in front of a loud and rowdy Ferrell Center crowd of 9,684, the Bears (8-0) traded blow for blow, shot for shot with Xavier, defeating the Musketeers, 76-61. Don't let the score fool you, though, by no means was this a blowout.
Perhaps coming out a little too excited, Baylor struggled in the early going, falling behind 21-12. Xavier's guards came out ready to play, especially Trevon Bluiett, who hit six 3-pointers and finished with a team-high 23 points.
Bluiett hit three treys in the first 5 ½ minutes to help Xavier jump out to the early lead.
"I think we had to settle down a little bit," head coach Scott Drew said. "This is the best crowd we've had, and it gave us a lot of energy and probably too hyped to be honest. (We) made some mental mistakes, didn't communicate as well with each other. And I think once we settled down, took a breath, had a couple of timeouts, we were able to get back to playing our style of basketball."
Baylor's style of basketball must be centered on superb defense and crisp passing, because that's exactly what defined the Bears' play the rest of the game.
Following junior guard Manu Lecomte's steal and deep field goal, the Bears woke up, igniting the crowd as well.
Even with a four-guard lineup, the Musketeers outrebounded the Bears by 10 in the first half, 26-16, and took a 34-31 lead into the locker room.
Then, the Bears did what they have done all season long, something that is starting to define this season. They played an unbelievable second half.
Going on an 11-1 run sparked by sophomore guard Jake Lindsey's steals, Lecomte 3-pointers and a crowd-stirring alley-oop pass from Wainright to Jo Lual-Acuil, the Bears took a 61-52 lead that was too much for Xavier to overcome.
"We just had to get in rhythm," said Lecomte, who hit 6-of-9 from 3-point range and finished with a game-high 24 points. "We struggled a little bit in the beginning. We just kept shooting, kept finding each other. That's what we're all about. We're all-in, we've just got to keep finding each other."
Once they found their rhythm, there was nothing stopping the Bears. Besides Lecomte, Johnathan Motley had 17 points and eight rebounds, Lual-Acuil added 12 points and six blocks and Freeman chipped in with 10 points.
"Yeah, today (the basket) felt pretty big," Lecomte said. "I had a good game shooting. I just had to keep shooting. That's what I do."
While it was Lecomte's clutch 3-pointers that certainly iced the game, it was Baylor's big men that were able to keep Xavier off-balance in the second half.
The Musketeers got just 13 second-chance points off their 18 offensive rebounds, something that Xavier head coach Chris Mack thought was "almost physically impossible to do when you get 18 offensive rebounds."
"(Lual-Acuil and Motley) did alter several shots at the rim, obviously blocked some," Drew said. "At the end of the day, when you know that you have that behind you, it allows the guards to press the ball a little bit more, because if they get beat, there's a chance that at least the mistake will be erased. And that's important when you've got great shooters like they have."
Baylor gets a break for final exams, getting the next 10 days off before hosting Southern University at 6 p.m. Dec. 14. Drew emphasized the importance of winning a big game, especially against a top-10 opponent before a break.
"It's great. You don't want to go on a long break with a bad taste in your mouth," he said. "It's nice, because now after traveling and what-not, a couple have been sick, so they can get healthy."
If the team that beat Xavier by 15 wasn't healthy, look out the rest of the way. It makes them beating three top-10 teams in the same season for the first time in program history even more impressive.