WACO (AP) — The green-and-gold confetti flew. And green-clad Baylor coach Kim Mulkey climbed the ladder to finish the Big 12 championship celebration.
The No. 1 Lady Bears figure on it being the first of several parties.
Brittney Griner scored 30 points and Baylor celebrated a conference title already in hand with dozens of former players in the stands for a 67-47 victory against Texas on Saturday.
Not long after cutting the last strand of a net above a throng of Baylor fans on the Ferrell Center court, Mulkey decided it was time to say her team was playing for even more than a second straight NCAA championship.
“It’s mighty early, but I don’t have a problem saying it,” said Mulkey, who has two national titles at Baylor and another two as a player at Louisiana Tech. “If you can dig deep within your soul and win another championship, you will secure in my opinion the legacy of one of the greatest teams to ever play this game.”
The Big 12 regular season title is the smallest step along the way. Still to come: the Big 12 tournament, a regional final that could secure a third Final Four berth in the past four seasons — and another batch of confetti that assuredly will be waiting in New Orleans.
“Now that’s a bold statement,” Mulkey went on, “but you’ve got an All-American point guard and you’ve got an All-American post player. And then you look at the players around them, they’re All-Americans in their own right as well.”
The Lady Bears (26-1, 15-0 Big 12) looked a little Griner-centric in the first half. She outscored the Longhorns by herself before halftime, scoring 20 of the Lady Bears’ 30 points, getting nine of their 22 rebounds and four of their six blocks. She finished with 11 rebounds and five blocks.
But Griner’s All-American partner, Odyssey Sims, balanced things out in the second half. She scored 12 of her 15 after halftime and finished with a game-high six assists.
“We didn’t start the game off like we should have,” Sims said. “We came out in the second half and played better.”
Chassidy Fussell was the only Texas player in double figures with 16 points but was just 7 of 20 from the field with six turnovers as the Longhorns were held to 35 percent shooting and 23 turnovers that led to 14 Baylor points.
The Lady Bears finished the first half with an 11-2 run for a 30-16 lead in their 24th consecutive victory. The Lady Bears extended a pair of record streaks to 54 straight home wins and 37 in a row in conference. All three streaks are currently the longest in the nation.
Texas (10-16, 3-12) scored six straight points to get within 19-14 when Kimetria Hayden hit one of her two 3-pointers — the only long-range buckets for Baylor — to start the half-ending run. Griner scored six of the last eight in the spurt, with Destiny Williams getting the other bucket on a rebound off a miss by Griner on a hook shot.
“I thought we did all we could from a competitive standpoint,” Texas coach Karen Aston said. “We’re just young, and a team like that and really any team in the Big 12 makes you pay if you take plays off. We took too many off, but they make you do that. They’re good.”
The Lady Bears spent most of halftime on the court while about 80 former players were introduced, and all the current and former players gathered for a quick photo. The 6-foot-8 Griner playfully stretched out on the floor in front of the group.
Griner was honored before the game for becoming the eighth Division I woman with 3,000 career points in Monday’s win at No. 3 Connecticut. She moved up to No. 5 on the career list Saturday, passing Cindy Blodgett (Maine), Cheryl Miller (Southern California) and Chamique Holdsclaw (Tennessee). She’s six points behind UConn’s Maya Moore.
Griner also became the first player with 700 career blocks. She broke the NCAA record earlier this season. She has at least one block in 76 straight games.
“Brittney does exactly what Brittney does, and nothing different today,” Aston said. “And we didn’t do a very good job of doubling in the right places, in the first half in particular.”
The Lady Bears thought they’d need a win over Texas to clinch their third straight Big 12 regular season title, but losses by Iowa State and Oklahoma helped secure it last weekend.
The second half was mostly a prelude to a postgame championship celebration, with Texas staying within the halftime deficit most of the way before a 9-0 Baylor run for a 61-39 lead.
“We just kind of went into the game not really thinking about that, and waiting for the game was over to celebrate,” Sims said.
Brooklyn Pope finished the spurt with back-to-back layups, and she drew the biggest cheer of the game in the first half with an emphatic block of a layup by Brady Sanders.
(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
Also Check Out: