I've been looking forward to this game for quite some time; ever since the schedule came out. I commented in my schedule preview that this game would be a great test for a couple of reasons. First, the would be only the third road game for the Bears thus far this season. Second, I predicted this would only be the Baylor's third game against an RPI Top 50 opponent, with 21 days in between, and that prediction held true.
While I have been looking forward to this game, I made a terrible assumption. I assumed that when two Top 20 teams play, you'd be able to watch it on TV. But then I remembered that this is women's basketball we are taking about. I found out after the fact that there was an available live stream, but alas it was too late.
Baylor pulled this one out. I don't want to mince words and try and make sound like a game that was better than the score reflected. Niya Johnson shot the go-ahead basket with 59.4 seconds left in the game. With 16.1 left in the game, Syracuse had the ball and the chance to tie or win outright but the ball hit the rim and Baylor got the crucial defensive rebound to win the game.
It's not often you can reduce a game to a single number, but I think in this game one in particular is pretty telling of this game: 19. That is the number of turnovers Baylor had in the first 20 minutes of basketball. To put that number into perspective, Baylor was averaging 12.6 turnovers per GAME. Their previous season high was 19 at Kentucky. Coach Mulkey summed it up well when she said in the post-game press conference that it "might have been the worst half of basketball I've ever coached." And she's coached a few games (500 to be exact).
I've talked about the youth of this team on several occasions and that youthfulness showed itself in the first half, going into the locker room down for the first time all season. However, the players did not allow their first half performance to dictate the second. They came out and played a solid game of basketball. They became more focused, turning the ball over only six more times. They keyed in on getting and keeping the ball, out rebounding the Orange 46 to 34. Syracuse found success in the first half shooting threes and playing zone press defense. The Bears found their answer through 21 assists. In spite of their youth, these ladies did what they couldn't do against Kentucky: they found a way to win. This game will be an excellent reminder as we move into conference play, the Big 12 tournament, and the NCAA tournament.
As usual, Nina Davis had a monster game, with 26 points and 17 rebounds. She recorded her third double-double on the season and 15th in her career. The other scoring leaders were fellow sophomores Imani Wright, with 12, and Khadijiah Cave with 13. Senior Sune Agbuke scored 9 points in 15 minutes of play. Niya Johnson continues to be a generous player, recording 10 assists while only committing two turnovers. In addition, she picked up six rebounds.
In conclusion, a win is a win, especially when it comes against a likely Top 25 team. However, in addition to adding a digit to the win column, this game helped to answer a few questions that needed to be answered. Can this team get a win on the road? Yes. Can they play well against a team of similar talent? Mostly. Can they overcome their youth? Indeed. Can they rise up to the challenge after a lull in good competition? Yes. So while I would always prefer a blowout, I'll gladly take this close win and the lessons it brought with it.
If you haven't noticed, the recaps have been a little sparse since the Kentucky game. Well, lets be honest, they have been non-existent. For the seven games played between Kentucky and this game, the average opponent RPI is 156. Only one team, Marist, is above 75, and they are currently 5-5. Five of the teams are below 100, and two of them are below 200. Only two of the teams have a winning percentage over 56%. That's a lot of number to say that while I am sorry that I have not given our pre-conference schedule the attention Our Daily Bears deserves, it is hard to get excited about a glut of ugly games. However, with conference play starting in just two weeks, the coverage will significantly pick up.