By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
Kim Mulkey never expected Saturday's first-round game in the NCAA Tournament to be this easy. No one would.
In the most lopsided game in tournament history, top-seeded Baylor (31-3) kicked off a hopeful Final Four run with a 119-30 blowout of a 16th-seeded Texas Southern team (23-10) that simply had no answers for the Lady Bears' size, athleticism and just sheer talent.
Six players scored in double figures, led by sophomore posts Beatrice Mompremier and Kalani Brown with 22 and 21 points, respectively, as Baylor outscored the much smaller Lady Tigers, 74-6, in the paint and tripled them on the boards, 60-19.
"I thought the group that started the game was as intense as they've been probably all year," said Mulkey, whose team also set NCAA Tournament records for most points in regulation play, biggest rebounding margin (plus-41) and best field goal percentage defense (13.8).
"I thought their intensity, their focus was just so much better than the last game. They understood, you'll come out of the game if you don't get in passing lanes. You're going to come out of the game if you allow people to go to the offensive boards."
Well, that didn't happen. Texas Southern did manage to grab 10 offensive rebounds, but had zero points to show for them.
With Mulkey subbing liberally starting in the first quarter, no player logged more than 22 minutes and each of the 12 players scored at least two points and grabbed a rebound. The Lady Bears also shared the ball, assisting on 35 of the team's 48 field goals.
Baylor's high-low post game was virtually unstoppable, with Mompremier and 6-foot-4 freshman Lauren Cox combining for eight assists by feeding each other.
"If somebody opens up, they should get the ball," said Mompremier, who had her fifth double-double of the season and ninth of her career with 22 points and 11 rebounds, "because they worked hard to get open."
The Lady Bears won their first-round game for the 14th year in a row and advance to face ninth-seeded California (20-13) at 8 p.m. Monday at the Ferrell Center. Asha Thomas hit six 3-pointers and scored 18 points in the Golden Bears' 55-52 win over eighth-seeded LSU (20-12) in the later first-round game.
"I told our young ladies in the locker room a moment ago that you've probably played a Final Four team, for sure," said Texas Southern coach Johnetta Hayes-Perry, who led the Lady Tigers to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in school history. "Great size, shoot the ball well, shot the ball extremely well today. Some of that was us, but a lot of it was them hitting shots early."
Baylor hit nine of its first 12 shots, including 3-pointers by Kristy Wallace and Alexis Jones, to open up a 22-0 lead. On the flip side, Texas Southern missed its first eight shots and turned it over six times before freshman guard Chynna Ewing finally ended the scoring drought when she hit a jumper nearly 6 ½ minutes into the game.
Freshman Natalie Chou buried a 3-pointer in the last minute of the opening quarter to give the Lady Bears a mind-boggling 34-5 lead.
"Natalie coming off the bench and Juicy (Landrum) coming off the bench with confidence and shooting the ball, because they can really shoot the ball well," Jones said of the freshman guards, "it just shows they're excited and they're ready for this March Madness tournament. And they're not afraid of the moment."
Jones, who had sat out the last four weeks with a bruised knee, was greeted with a big ovation from the Baylor crowd when she entered the game at the 5:39 mark in the first quarter.
`It shows that they missed me out there," said Jones, who had five points, three rebounds and an assist in 12 minutes. "I'm just thankful that we have great fans, and I'm thankful for them approaching it that way when I got back on the court."
The Lady Bears shot 58 percent from the field in the second quarter and 77.8 percent in the third, connecting on a combined 25-of-37 from the floor, and stretching their lead to 93-24 going into the fourth.
"I don't know if I've ever coached a team at Baylor (that shot 78 percent in a quarter)," Mulkey said. "I know we haven't been in quarters that manyyears, but that's pretty remarkable."
Mompremier, who scored eight of her game-high 22 points in the fourth quarter, hit an inside shot off a feed from Landrum to score Baylor's 100th point with eight minutes still to play. The Lady Bears have topped the 100-point mark seven times this season, including 140 against Winthrop on Dec. 15.
Cox mixed four of her first five shots and scored just two first-half points. But, she hit three fourth-quarter treys after ending the third quarter by blocking a 3-pointer, taking the ball herself and hitting a layup just before the buzzer.
"That was a lot of fun," said Cox, who was just 4-for-12 from 3-point range this season, "just because they were falling for me and my teammates were getting me the ball. We were just really working together and sharing the ball with each other."
Besides Mompremier and Brown, also scoring in double figures for the Lady Bears were Cox (17), Nina Davis (13), Chou (12) and Alexis Prince (12). Joyce Kennerson, the SWAC Tournament MVP, scored 19 of the Lady Tigers' 30 points and was 9-of-11 from the line.
"We'll be ready next year," said sophomore forward Breasia McElraith. "It won't be the last time you see Texas Southern. "We took this experience, and we're going to capitalize on it and get better from it."