Ames, IA—It was another must win game for Baylor (24-5, 14-3 Big 12). They had won 13 of 14 games since beginning 0-2 in Big 12 play; all would be for nought if they lost to Iowa State (24-5, 13-4 Big 12).
After a back and forth first quarter where the Bears led 19-18, NaLyssa Smith took over. She dropped 19 points in the first half and posted nine rebounds. Baylor lead by 12 at halftime.
The Bears exploded in the second half to win 87-62 and claim their twelfth straight Big 12 regular season championship—in the first year under Nicki Collen. Baylor became the first team to start 0-2 in league play but then win it all since Texas Tech did so in 2000.
Smith had nine points and 11 rebounds in the second half to finish with 28 and 20, but most importantly a Big 12 title. Something she so desperately wanted.
Jordan Lewis hit all five three-point shots she took in the second half to help extend the lead to as many as 30 as the Bears cruised over the Cyclones. Lewis finished with 23 points and six assists.
Caitlin Bickle played a near perfect game off the bench, going 6-of-8 for 13 points and five rebounds. That was key as Queen Egbo struggled with foul trouble, despite finishing with 10 points and eight rebounds.
In the end, the trio of seniors embraced on the sideline in pure joy. What began with a national title under Kim Mulkey ended with their toughest Big 12 title to date. The adversity that they faced—Mulkey leaving, deciding to stay at Baylor after prayer, struggling through Covid, losing the first two Big 12 games, fans wanting to fire Collen and then having to play basically must win games every night out with very little rest in between (two vs Texas in the same weekend or getting snowed in in Stillwater) with only seven players—was absurd.
And yet Smith and her fellow five star seniors provided the leadership at every turn to not let the season get lost. Lewis brought in record breaking experience and coach Collen modernized Baylor’s offense with professional and new era statistic philosophies.
It is time to seriously consider Smith as the best payer in Baylor program history. Sophia Young, Brittney Griner, Odyssey Sims, Nina Davis, Smith, Lauren Cox, Kalani Brown are the top seven. It is probably Kristy Wallace, Chloe Jackson and Didi Richards that round out the top 10.
If Smith can help lead the Bears to a national title to bookend her career, she would leave as unquestioned number one.
And Baylor does not believe that their job is done anyway. They want to win the Big 12 outright, win the Big 12 tournament and win a national championship.
Why would anybody doubt them now?