Kansas City, MO— No. 7 Texas came out on fire in the Big 12 Championship game, on a mission to dethrone No. 4 Baylor from the Big 12 throne.
They did so with a 67-58 dominating performance where the burnt orange were in control from start to finish to win their first tournament title since 2003. It was their first victory over Baylor since 2017, which snapped a 13-game Baylor winning streak in the series.
And they did so by neutralizing two-time Big 12 Player of the Year, All-American and potential No. 1 WNBA draft pick NaLyssa Smith. Smith, and her family, were plastered on the front page of every headline over the past 24 hours as Smith scored a career high 37 points against Oklahoma in the semifinals. And her dad hit a halfcourt shot at halftime to win $6,600 of gas money.
Smith was also four points away from crossing the 2,000-point mark for her career, which she did this afternoon. She joins six others in Baylor history who have both 2,000 career points and 1,000 career rebounds.
Maybe Vic Schafer had a pre-game Herb Brooks-like Miracle speech where he said ‘I am sick and tired of hearing how good NaLyssa Smith is and how good the Baylor basketball team is. Screw ‘em! Tonight is your time; now go out there and take it.’
Freshman Rori Harmon took that advice—or whatever it was—to heart. The tournament’s Most Outstanding Player and Big 12 freshman of the year scored 20 points on 80 percent shooting and added five rebounds and five assists. She hit a buzzer beater layup before halftime and had clutch jumpers whenever Texas needed them most.
Most impressively, Harmon played all 40 minutes without a single turnover and made al her foul shots. Joanne Allen-Taylor (14 points) and Aaliyah Moore (12) also finished in double figures for Texas.
Back in February, these two rivals squared off twice in a span of 44 hours. That single weekend was chop-full of some of the toughest and grittiest blue collar basketball you will ever see.
After the first matchup Friday in Waco, Baylor seniors Queen Egbo and NaLyssa Smith took to twitter to call out the refs and mock tweets from the Texas players respectively. The Bears then scratched and clawed their way from down eight at the half, get a fortunate break in the second half to turn the momentum and pull out the victory.
On Championship Sunday, however, Baylor seemed surprised and stunned that Texas came out guns a blazing. As if they forgot what it took in the winter to win twice, and expected the Longhorns to just lie down for them.
The Bears were disjointed and discombobulated from the start, as players were often looking around at one another for answers that nobody had. Texas used the same physical game plan they had in the first two meetings and jumped out to a big lead, and Baylor could never recover.
Baylor, simply put, could not do anything.
They led 10-7 late in the first after a Jordan Lewis (13 points) three-pointer but then proceeded to turn the ball over on the next three possessions. Their end of quarter defense—something that Nicki Collen’s team has struggled with all season—failed the Bears yet again.
The Bears were sloppy. They could not pass, they could not catch and they could not inbound the ball. They were lackadaisical on defense and failed to box out on the defensive glass as Shay Holle (seven points) got notable offensive rebounds that led to some of her huge second chance points.
Baylor also lacked spacial awareness on the offensive end. They were forcing passes to Smith and were not in sync when trying to hit each other on the pick and rolls. Too often, the Bears would lose control of the ball out of bounds. In total, the Bears had 16 turnovers.
Smith also picked up her third foul on a charge where she banged up her knee and had to leave for the reminder of the half. She returned to the stationary bike prior to halftime and was sitting on the bench with a knee brace moments before the start of the third quarter.
But Smith would play fine in the second half and scored 16 of her game high 21 points after halftime. She also finished with 10 rebounds to set a new Baylor single season record for double doubles.
The Bears, who trailed by as many as 15 points, cut it to nine points at the end of the third with a wild seven second sequence. Texas got an offensive rebound off a foul shot, but missed a layup as Smith avoided picking up her fourth foul and Baylor advanced the ball up to Ja’Mee Asberry (13 points) to hit a 30-foot desperation three at the buzzer to make it a 41-50 game.
The Bears had life to comeback and win their tenth Big 12 tournament in 11 tries. And Texas went nearly four minutes without a bucket to begin the fourth, but Baylor could not draw any closer. The breaks the Bears received in Austin did not go their way this time in Kansas City.
The closest the Bears ever got was seven, most notably on an Asberry three with 2:13 left to play. Yet, time dwindled too quickly as Coach Collen failed to use a single timeout until there was less than 30 seconds remaining in the second half. For that reason, one could certainly argue that the Bears’ suffered from time mismanagement. The players seemed to always play too methodical and with no sense of urgency to complete the comeback—especially down the stretch.
Many will want to blame the officiating as well. To dispel that theory, the foul count was basically even with Baylor at 18 and Texas at 17. And the Bears had to commit five fouls in the final 90 seconds to try to extend the game.
Baylor missed nine free throws (11-of-20; 55 percent) which was the same margin they lost by. Texas was nearly 30 percent better than Baylor at the charity stripe (18-of-22).
In the end, Baylor was unprepared for a physical battle from the start; missed too many free throws; shot 25 percent from three (taking out Asberry’s buzzer beater); played lazy defense; had ineffective spacing and passing that led to turnovers and easy Texas second chance points; and mismanaged the clock in their comeback attempt.
Texas, since they lost both those games to Baylor to begin February, is on a current 10-game winning streak and can finally claim a Big 12 championship. They will look to make noise as a two-seed in the tournament.
On the other hand, Baylor is left to reflect on what was an incredible season despite not having the success they wanted in the conference tournament. The Bears won 14 of their final 15 regular season games to win their 12th Big 12 title with a new coach and only seven players. Just like the men, it is insane to think that the women pulled off such an incredible feat.
The Bears were in line for a No. 1 seed, but could potentially fall to a No. 2 seed with the loss. They will also have to turn their attention to the NCAA tournament.