March 8, 2014
By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider
OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. - Not only do the ninth-ranked Baylor Lady Bears get a chance to add another price to the already well-stocked trophy shelf at the Big 12 Championship, they could avenge a pair of their regular-season losses.
The top-seeded Lady Bears (26-4) open against No. 8 seed Kansas (13-18) in Saturday's 1:30 p.m. quarterfinal at Chesapeake Energy Arena and could be on a collision course with second-seeded and seventh-ranked West Virginia (27-3) for Monday's 8 p.m. championship game.
"I think we all want another piece of Kansas," said Big 12 Player of the Year Odyssey Sims, who's averaging a national-best 29.6 points per game.
In Baylor's only two-game skid of the year, the Lady Bears followed up a 66-55 loss at home to top-ranked Connecticut with a somewhat stunning 76-60 loss to Kansas in Lawrence, Kan., despite a 31-point, 12-rebound performance from Sims.
Just two weeks after drilling the Jayhawks, 75-55, in Waco, Baylor coughed up an early 11-point lead and shot just 30.4 percent from the field (24-of-79).
"We don't have anybody in our league that can play her one-on-one . . . because of how many ways she can score," Kansas coach Bonnie Henrickson said of Sims, who was just 13-of-37 in that second game against the Jayhawks. "I thought we brought help early, we got back and rebounded and made some big shots. We drove it on them a little bit in transition and got some defensive rebounds, the same way we got back in this."
Henrickson was referring to the Jayhawks 87-84 overtime victory over in-state rival Kansas State in Friday's opening game of the Big 12 Championship. They overcame an early 16-point deficit and trailed by six in the overtime period before coming back to knock off the Wildcats.
Four players scored in double figures for Kansas, led by native Texans Chelsea Gardner and CeCe Harper with 29 and 20 points, respectively. Gardner, a 6-3 junior forward from DeSoto, Texas, is averaging 17 points and 6.3 rebounds per game and was named to the coaches' All-Big 12 team.
Harper, a 5-8 senior guard from San Antonio, Texas, is averaging 11 points and a team-high 5.4 assists and has made a habit of coming up big against the Lady Bears.
"I think it's all about just coming out confident and coming out playing our game," she said. "Just the prep that the coaches give us is amazing, just knowing what we need to do to put ourselves in the situation to win."
Sims has already been a part of seven Big 12 titles, including three straight postseason tournaments, and would like nothing better than to add another one.
"It would mean a lot to celebrate it again," she said. "We're just going to take it one game at a time, we're not going to overlook anybody, and we're going to play hard and stay focused."
This, of course, is the same arena where Baylor's season ended in shocking fashion last year, with an 82-81 loss to Louisville in the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16. Sims scored 29 points and brought the Lady Bears all the way back from a 17-point deficit, hitting a go-ahead free throw with 9.1 seconds left, but the Cardinals won it on a pair of free throws with 2.6 seconds left on the clock.
"As I sat over on that bench on the far end, I remembered it," said Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey, referring to Friday's practice session. "But it's not the same team. Odyssey Sims is really the only player (left) that played in that game. And she should have great memories here, because she almost singlehandedly brought us back and won that game for us. All those 3's that Louisville hit, we still came back and had a one-point lead with nine seconds left. That just told me the fight that that eam had in them.
"You win some games, you lose some games, you have heartbreakers. But nah, I'm not superstitious. (Playing in this arena again) doesn't faze me."
If Baylor wins Saturday, the Lady Bears advance to face either Iowa State or Oklahoma State in the semifinals at 2 p.m. Sunday and a possible shot at avenging a 71-69 loss at home to West Virginia that cost them the outright Big 12 championship.
"Right now, the confidence level is what it's always been," said Mulkey, who is two wins shy of her 400th career victory, "even after we lost to West Virginia, the way it ended. These kids, they're pretty even-keeled. They don't get too high and they don't get too low. When that (West Virginia) game was over, we talked about it and left there and went to Iowa State, and made sure that we finished as co-champs and didn't finish second place. If we get beat, it won't be lack of confidence; it won't be anything but sometimes a team just plays better than you do."