By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
Don't look for this one on ESPN Classic anytime soon, and it's not the kind of signature win that will boost the third-ranked Baylor Lady Bears' postseason stock.
But, when push came to shove and Baylor had a rare down-to-the-wire type game, the Lady Bears (22-1, 12-0) closed on a 10-2 run and pulled out a 74-65 victory over the upset-minded Oklahoma Sooners (12-12, 7-6) Monday night before a Ferrell Center crowd of 5,324.
"It was just two competitive teams trying their best to play for something," said coach Kim Mulkey, whose team won its 19th game in a row and seventh straight in a series that was tied coming into this season at 25-25. "We have six games left, and they're all going to be like this. Everybody's fatigued mentally and physically this time of the year, and we know each other well. It's just going to be battles like this."
On a night when Kalani Brown was held to less than half of her 20.7-point scoring average and senior guard Kristy Wallace was just 2-of-12 from the field, sophomore forward Lauren Cox scored a career-high 24 points, Dekeiya Cohen added 15 and freshman Didi Richards had nine points, five boards and three assists off the bench.
"I thought Didi Richards was the difference in the game off the bench," Mulkey said. "She made the big free throws when it was a five-point game and she is long and can battle for rebounds, and she helped us. . . . We've got to get some help from some of the ones that played tonight and make them understand it's a team deal. We've got to have it from everybody."
While Wallace's shot was off - she was 0-for-4 from 3-point range - she contributed in other ways. She finished one point shy of a double-double with nine points and a season-high 12 assists to go with six rebounds, two blocks and a steal in 40 minutes.
"She may have gone 2-for-12, but all of those other things are what help you win the ballgame," Mulkey said. "I hate it, but she's used to playing that much. That's Kristy. She's like an Energizer Bunny out there."
OU coach Sherri Coale, whose team was trying to pick up its third win over a top-25 opponent this season and first against Baylor in three years, said Wallace "makes them go."
"We're sitting here talking about all these other people, but she makes them go," Coale said. "She knows how to play. If Gabbi (Ortiz) gets hot, she's guarding her. If Shaina (Pennington) gets hot, she's going to guard her. They just use her everywhere. She didn't score a lot tonight, but I think she had 14 or 15 assists."
None bigger than when Wallace drove the baseline and dished to Brown for a backside layup that gave the Lady Bears the lead back, 62-60, with 5:03 left in the game. OU, which never led in the game, had tied it up on a 9-1 run at the start of the fourth quarter.
"With us having this long stretch of games back-to-back, I think it's definitely a grind," said Cohen, who was 6-of-9 from the floor. "We just had to keep that in our heads that we're all fatigued, but we need to grind it out because we need to win. We know we're about to have two days off, but we've got to take care of business first."
Trailing by eight at the break, the Sooners got back in it in the third quarter by draining four 3-pointers and shooting 64 percent overall in the period (7-of-11).
Scoreless in the first half, Ortiz got on a roll with three treys in the third quarter and finished with 14 points
"I thought Juicy (Landrum's) defense on Ortiz to start the game was as good as she's played," Mulkey said. "But then in the second half, she started doing those step-back 3's, and that got her going."
While Ortiz and Maddie Manning got it going in the second half, Vionise Pierre-Louis and Pellington combined for 25 of the Sooners' 30 points in the first half. Pierre-Louis had three of her five turnovers in the second half and scored just four points after a 15-point first half.
"We just had to stay with her and move our feet," Cox said, "because she makes multiple moves and we just had to stay with her. And we can take those charges on her just like she did on us."
Manning drained a 3-pointer that made it a one-point game and missed another one that would have given the Sooners their first lead with 2:33 to go. OU missed six shots in a row before Pellington ended a three-minute scoring drought with a drive in off the glass.
In between the Sooners' last two buckets, Baylor iced the game with Wallace and Richards hitting 8-of-10 from the line.
"I liked our fight," Coale said. "It was very much an in-the-moment game. When it was tied, it could have gone either way. And it was about who was going to make more plays down the stretch. I loved being in that position and having that opportunity."
In the end, though, it was the Lady Bears that made the plays when it counted the most.
"These last six games are all going to be like this," Mulkey said. "We've got to figure out how to battle and win enough of them to get another championship."
After playing five games in 12 days, Baylor finishes off a two-game home stand by hosting No. 24 TCU (16-6, 7-4) at 7 p.m. Saturday. The Horned Frogs, who won seven in a row before a blowout loss on the road to Texas, will host 22nd-ranked Oklahoma State on Wednesday.