TWO MUCH FOR TOPPERS: Davis, Odyssey Combine For 63 Points in 87-74 WinMarch 23, 2014
By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider
Western Kentucky coach Michelle Clark-Heard knew all about Baylor All-American Odyssey Sims, the nation's second-leading scorer and a Naismith Trophy finalist. Who doesn't?
But the one player that she knew her Lady Toppers' squad would struggle to contain in Saturday's opening-round NCAA tournament game was 5-11 freshman forward Nina Davis.
"She's unbelievable," Clark-Heard said. "She's definitely a workhorse. She never stops moving, she never stops working and she's hard to block out."
It was that lethal inside-out combination of Davis and Sims that proved to be too much for 15th-seeded Western Kentucky to overcome, as they combined for 63 points and helped the second-seeded Lady Bears pull away late for an 87-74 victory before a crowd of 6,207 at the Ferrell Center.
"At the beginning of the game, when I started attacking the goal, I found out early that I was faster than the players guarding me," said Davis, who scored a career-high 32 points, shooting 11-of-13 from the field. "My teammates kept feeding me the ball, and I was just trying to use my quickness to get around them. And that pretty much worked for me throughout the night."
And if it wasn't Davis dominating down low, it was Sims popping from the outside. Looking fresher than she has in weeks, the senior guard was 4-of-8 from outside the 3-point arc and finished with 31 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals while playing all 40 minutes.
"I had a week off after the West Virginia game," said Sims, referring to the Lady Bears' 74-71 win in the Big 12 Championship final. "So, I had a lot of time to rest and get my body back to normal, I just came back and went hard for a week and got myself ready to play today."
As it turned out, the Lady Bears (30-4) needed everything Davis and Sims could bring them. With head coach Kim Mulkey serving a one-game suspension, and associate head coach Bill Brock taking over on the sidelines, Baylor couldn't completely shake the Sun Belt Conference champions until the final minutes.
This was a far cry from the last three opening-round games, when top-seeded Baylor teams won by an average margin of 39.7 points.
"For us to come in here and compete the way we did and go to the last three minutes, it just says a ton about this team and how special they are," Clark-Heard said.
"We were trying to make a run, and they kept hitting 3's and getting and-ones, getting easy buckets around the rim," Sims said. "I'm pretty sure (Coach Mulkey) probably threw something at the TV a couple times."
Mulkey will be back when the Lady Bears face seventh-seeded California (22-9) at 8:15 p.m. Monday, trying to make it back to the Sweet 16 for the sixth year in a row and ninth time in the last 11 years.
"I thought our fans were fantastic tonight," said Brock, who was given a standing ovation when he walked on the court before the game, "and I think they will be here in even more numbers on Monday. I hope what they're doing is . . . making plans to get up tomorrow and drive to San Antonio and getting our men to the Sweet 16; then getting back here on Monday night and cheering us on, so we have a chance to get to the Sweet 16."
At the start, this looked like it would be your typical first-round blowout. Makenzie Robertson and Sims knocked down 3-pointers on Baylor's first two possessions as the Lady Bears blew out to an 11-4 lead in the first 2 ½ minutes.
But the Lady Toppers(24-9) refused to go away. Chastity Gooch and Kendall Noble kept them in it, by combining for 26 first-half points.
And every time it looked like Baylor would pull away, like when Sims hit a floater to push the lead to 25-17, Western Kentucky answered. Gooch had eight straight points in an 11-2 run, and Bianca McGee buried a 3-pointer that gave the Lady Toppers their only lead of the night, 28-27, with 6:43 left in the half.
"We weren't intimidated by them at all," said Noble, a redshirt freshman guard who finished with 21 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and three steals. "We knew they were a good team, but we were prepared for everything they threw at us."
Davis, who scored 24 of her game-high 32 points in the first half, scored five straight to give the Lady Bears the lead for good. Baylor stretched it out to as many as nine before taking a somewhat uncomfortable 47-41 lead into the break.
"We knew they weren't going to give up," said Baylor sophomore guard Niya Johnson. "The way they pressed us, the way they shot the ball, they did an excellent job."
Those nervous moments continued well into the second half as the Lady Toppers twice got back within three and just kept hanging around.
"Here's what I told the kids during a couple timeouts: I said, 'Guys, I just don't think that they can keep shooting at this pace,''' Brock said. "I thought the time would come when they would eventually miss a couple in a row. And they did. It just seemed like every time, they missed two in a row, we would get the offensive rebound and come down and have a very good offensive possession. I thought our shot selection tonight was outstanding. I can't remember more than a couple shots that I thought were out of the flow of our offense."
Baylor took its first double-digit lead, 66-55, on a Sims 3-pointer with 10:30 left, but Western Kentucky answered again and had it within five going into the last 6 ½ minutes of the game. Sims hit a floater and a pair of free throws that pushed it back to a 10-point game.
"I just knew this: If you get Odyssey Sims in a one-on-one situation with the ball in her hand, good things have a chance to happen," Brock said.
Down the stretch, Johnson and freshman forward Khadijah Cave combined to score 10 of the team's last 12 points to help the Lady Bears nail down the victory.
Cave, who picked up two quick fouls and played only two minutes in the first half, got a layup off an assist from sophomore post Kristina Higgins and then completed a three-point play that gave the Lady Bears an 81-69 lead with 2:51 remaining.
"At first, I was upset, because I got the two quick fouls," said Cave, who finished with six points, five boards and an assist. "But I just shook it off and kept playing. . . I just had to keep my head straight and keep trying to work hard and don't' fight with the refs. They're calling the game, and I can't do anything about that. Just keep playing hard and try to stop the fouls."
With the Lady Bears leading by nine after another McGee 3-pointer, Cave dished out to Johnson for a shot clock-beating 3-pointer that punctuated the victory. On Johnson's only other made 3-pointer of the year, she beat the shot clock in the first half of a 72-56 win at Texas.
"That's always my time," said Johnson, who is 2-of-5 from outside the arc this season and 4-of-10 for her career. "I tell them, 'Pass me the ball when the shot clock's winding down, and I'm going to hit the 3.' And see, I hit it. . . . . I hit 3's in high school, so I'm just trying to get back in my rhythm. That's really not my game anymore. I just shoot it when the shot clock's going down."
Baylor advances to face a Cal team that survived a scare from 10th-seeded Fordham, 64-63. Fordham had a late three-point lead and was up one before Brittany Boyd hit a driving layup off the glass with 14 seconds left.
"Cal is super athletic at every spot on the floor," Brock said. "It's going to be a good matchup with their point guard (Boyd) and our point guard (Sims). You better rebound the basketball if you want to stay in the game with Cal, because they just dominated the boards against Fordham. . . . The one thing we've gotto improve on is we've got to play better post defense on Monday night. If we don't, then (6-3 post Reshanda Gray) is going to have a field day."
Here is a link to the boxscore from Saturday's Baylor-Western Kentucky women's basketball game.
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