Waco, TX— Baylor (25-5, 15-3 Big 12) had already clinched a share of their 12th straight Big 12 title, but they made sure there was no opportunity to be shared by beating Texas Tech (11-18, 4-14 Big 12) 82-57.
NaLyssa Smith, after scoring a then career high 33 points last Saturday in Waco and grabbing a career high 20 rebounds in Ames, dropped a career high 35 points on her senior day. The potential number one pick in this year’s WNBA Draft also added 12 rebounds in the 25-point victory and received a standing ovation when she was finally subbed out with seconds left.
Coach Nicki Collen started all five of her seniors. Three, Smith, Caitlin Bickle (six points, three drawn charges) and Queen Egbo (eight points), started their careers in Waco as all five-stars and won the national championship in 2019 under then head coach Kim Mulkey. The other two, Jordan Lewis (5 points, 6 assists) and Ja’Mee Asberry (6 points), transferred in from Alabama and Oklahoma State respectively. Both Asberry and Bickle announced that they will be back next year.
Baylor led 45-22 at halftime in a contest that was never close. Smith also had 22 of her points in the first half. Jaden Owens had 13 points on a perfect 5-for-5 shooting night including three three-pointers.
Afterwards, Owens and Lewis sat together, chopping down on pieces of the championship net they had just cut down with confetti falling around them, smiling from ear to ear. They deserve it following the adversity filled season they just experienced.
The Bears sat in a desolate locker room in Norman back in January, trying to understand how a six-point fourth quarter lead slipped away and eft the Bears in last place with an 0-2 Big 12 record. An inauspicious start to the Nicki Collen era.
“Are you ready to quit or are you ready to figure this out?” Collen asked to each and every player.
Turns out, the Bears were more than ready—and willing—to figure it out. They won 15 of their final 16 games to win the league. The Bears are the first team since Texas Tech in 2000 to begin 0-2 but still win the Big 12.
Not only did they win the Big 12, but the improvement the Bears have shown—with seven players no less—puts them in prime position for a number one seed and to be a true national title contender.
“What we have is enough.” Coach Collen told a celebratory crowd in Waco after the win. “I’ll take this group anywhere—on the road or otherwise—and compete for any other championship that is out there.”
Next up for Baylor is the Big 12 tournament this week where the Bears look to win their tenth tournament title in the past 11 years.