No. 7 Baylor women rout K-State, 11th straight Big 12 title

Sports

Baylor forward NaLyssa Smith scores over Kansas State center Ayoka Lee, right, in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021, in Waco, Texas. (Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune Herald via AP)

WACO, Texas (AP) — Baylor’s Queen Egbo lifted teammate DiDi Richards while dancing a couple of circles before an instant team photo while coach Kim Mulkey crouched to greet her grandson as he ran toward her.

Yes, the Lady Bears are celebrating yet another Big 12 regular-season title.

Egbo scored 19 points and No. 7 Baylor extended the nation’s longest current streak of consecutive regular-season women’s conference titles to 11, clinching at least a tie for the crown by beating Kansas State 85-49 Saturday.

The socially distanced celebration, missing the fans that usually join them on the court, came amid a season interrupted by COVID-19 in early January.

The newest trophy sat alone on a table on a riser at midcourt. The other 11 — Baylor has 12 overall — were lined up on several tables below. Many in the coronavirus-limited crowd of 2,203 stayed to watch.

“I in 35 years of coaching have never coached under these circumstances,” Mulkey said. “It’s scary. It’s frustrating. And yet, I think of those kids that were in that corner over there with their championship hats on. And they just kept playing. To think that can continue to focus on basketball under those circumstances and win another championship, very, very special.”

NaLyssa Smith added 16 points and Moon Ursin scored all 15 of her points in the first half and had a career-high eight assists as the Lady Bears (19-2, 14-1) topped the Wildcats for the 36th straight time.

Baylor, which won the most recent NCAA Tournament title in 2019, has a 184-9 regular-season league record during the title streak, including four 18-0 seasons. The Lady Bears have also won eight conference tournaments in that stretch.

No. 18 West Virginia is the only team that can catch Baylor, and it would require the Lady Bears losing their remaining three games.

Rachel Ranke hit three 3-pointers for nine points for Kansas State (7-15, 2-13). She reached 1,000 points exactly for career and became the sixth player in school history with at least that many points to go with at least 300 rebounds and at least 200 3s.

Ursin, a career backup before becoming a full-time starter this season, finished her strong first half by tipping an offensive rebound to herself and beating the buzzer with a jumper for a 40-19 halftime lead.

A few minutes later, Ursin, Richards and Stanford graduate transfer DiJonai Carrington, who made her first start of the season, were taking flower bouquets from Mulkey in a senior day halftime celebration.

The Lady Bears chose this game to celebrate rather than their final scheduled home outing, a COVID-19 makeup game against West Virginia on March 8.

With Baylor leading by 38 and 1:11 remaining, Mulkey sent Ursin, Richards and Carrington back into the game. Ursin brought the ball past midcourt, and Baylor called timeout to take them out again. Those three also took a celebratory lap around the court after the final buzzer.

Richards, fourth on the school’s career list in assists, finished with six while scoring two points. Carrington had six points.

“I remember stepping on campus, and I didn’t think I was going to make it,” Ursin said. “Just homesick, just sad. But I’m here now. It’s been a great four years. It was really emotional. To be honest, I really couldn’t sleep last night. Excited, nervous, anxious.”

A jumper by Moon started a 20-2 run over the first and second quarters that turned a 14-9 lead into a 34-11 advantage, and the Lady Bears steadily pulled away while leading by as many as 39 points.

“I think Baylor was really sharp today, but I think we were very reactive,” said Kansas State coach Jeff Mittie, whose team is 2-3 since starting 0-10 in conference. “They were able to dictate a lot of things to us.”

BIG PICTURE

Kansas State: The Wildcats have one of the best centers in the country in 6-foot-6 Ayoka Lee, who had eight points. But they were still no match for the size of the Lady Bears. Baylor simply dominated points in the paint (46-18) and rebounding (42-25).

Baylor: All but three Big 12 wins have been by at least 19 points. Kansas State had one of the exceptions, a 64-52 loss at home. But this one was never close, with the Lady Bears surpassing that margin for good early in the second quarter.

RICHARDS’ ROAD

The fourth straight regular-season title for Richards was special because of her recovery from a collision with Moon in practice in October that temporarily left her without feeling in her lower legs. When Richards’ first returned to the team, she was using a walker. She ended up missing just one game, making her debut on Dec. 1.

“What DiDi was able to do was kind of focus that, ‘This is my goal. My goal is not to wait a year and get my mind right. My goal, my mind, everything’s good to go. I’ve just got to get my body back,’” Mulkey said. “When she got the clearance, she hasn’t missed a beat that I can see.”

UP NEXT

Kansas State: TCU at home Monday.

Baylor: At Texas on Monday.

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