By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
There's really nothing about the Bahamas that Kalani Brown doesn't like.
"They had all types of things, from jet skis to water bikes, banana boats. We got to snorkel all through a shipwreck, and it was really cool," said Baylor's 6-foot-7 junior All-American. "I did it all."
Sandwiched around all that fun in the sun, Brown also fit in two basketball games at the Junkanoo Jam. After a 20-point outing in a 100-58 win over Missouri State, she had her fourth double-double of the season and 16th of her career with 23 points and 10 rebounds to lift the eighth-ranked Lady Bears to an 80-57 win over Georgia Tech in Saturday's championship game at Gateway Christian Academy in Bimini.
"Bottom line, as I told them, is we won. We won a championship," said coach Kim Mulkey, whose team improved to 5-1 this season and 8-0 all-time in the Bahamas, with three Junknaoo Jam championships. "I don't care where you are, championships are hard to come by. We're a team that carries that Baylor across the chest. We're not the same team we were last year, but we're pretty darn good."
Brown earned tournament MVP honors and was joined on the all-tournament team by 6-4 sophomore forward Lauren Cox, who recorded her fourth career double-double with 22 points and a career-high 16 rebounds. The Lady Bears' inside duo combined for 45 points and 26 rebounds and hit 20-of-36 from the floor.
"I was just trying to beat them to the spot early, running the floor, trying to get a transition bucket," Brown said. "If we're in a half-court setting, I told them to wait a second, and I'll go away and come back to the ball, because then they'll think I'm setting a screen or going to the other block. Then, I turn around and I seal, and I think that's working for me."
Baylor struggled against the Georgia Tech press early, committing five turnovers in the first 2 ½ minutes and going down 3-2 on a 3-pointer by Lorela Cubaj. But, that proved to the Yellowjackets' only lead.
"What we lacked was the experience," Brown said. "The press probably did startle us for a little bit, and it got us a little stagnant. But in the timeout, Coach made a few changes and we were able to break it."
Brown scored eight points in an 11-0 run that gave Baylor the lead for good, getting dishes from Cox on two of her three buckets in that stretch.
The Lady Bears were up 18-8 at the end of the first quarter and 35-25 at the break before starting to pull away with a 26-point third quarter that included 14 points in the paint and 10 from Cox.
"I thought Lauren Cox carried us when Kristy (Wallace) and Kalani picked up their third fouls," Mulkey said. "Even though she got into foul trouble, I thought Cox stepped up and made some big shots."
In the fourth quarter, Brown hit all four of her shots and scored eight of the Lady Bears' 19 points to put the game away.
The backcourt duo of Wallace and freshman Alexis Morris had 12 and 11 points, respectively, and combined for nine rebounds, seven assists and four steals.
"I have to keep working with Alexis to make her understand that those first three possessions are critical," Mulkey said of Morris, who had two turnovers and a foul in a 10-second stretch in the fourth quarter. "But, she is a freshman. And we've got to get (freshman guard) Didi Richards going. . . . She's her own worst critic, she beats herself up."
Imani Tilford had 13 points and Elo Edekerioka chipped in with 12 for the Yellowjackets (6-1), who got by Penn, 69-55 in Thursday's other first-round game.
In two of its toughest non-conference tests of the season, Baylor hosts No. 22 Kentucky (5-0) at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Big 12/SEC Challenge and then No. 12/14 Stanford (4-2) at 1 p.m. next Sunday, Dec. 3.