WACO (AP) – Odyssey Sims and Baylor’s two other seniors clasped hands and with wide grins skipped around the home court.
A much-deserved victory lap for Sims after another impressive performance in her final home game.
Sims scored 27 points, including a long 3-pointer to punctuate a game-turning run she dominated, as Baylor took over in the second half for a 75-56 victory over California on Monday night to advance to the Sweet 16 for the sixth year in a row.
“We just kept playing. Cal was very physical, and we tried to push the ball when we could,” Sims said. “We just kept pushing the issue.”
With the shot clock running down and Kim Mulkey trying to call a play from the sideline, Sims instead knocked down the 3 that could only make her coach smile.
“She pretty much knows what we want to do in that situation. She let it fly before we do what we normally do,” Mulkey said. “That’s one of those shots, what is she doing (to) that’s a great shot. Typical Odyssey.”
That ended a 13-2 run over a 5-minute span when Sims scored 11 of the points and put Baylor (31-4) ahead 66-52 with 4½ minutes left.
“I did not know how far I was out,” Sims said. “I didn’t want to turn the ball over. I shot it and made it. I guess you can say that was the dagger.”
Afure Jemerigbe had 17 points and Brittany Boyd 15 for Cal (22-10), a Final Four team last season. Boyd was often grimacing in pain during the physical game when she hit the floor several times, but still played 39 minutes after dealing with a right ankle injury for several weeks.
“It’s never easy when a season ends with a group of people you love being around and want to keep playing with,” third-year Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. “One of our goals this year was to play until somebody beats us, until someone takes it from us. I thought Baylor did that tonight. I think this is a terrific team with an unbelievable home atmosphere and a lot of really good players.”
Baylor, the No. 2 seed in the Notre Dame Regional, plays Kentucky (26-8) on Saturday in South Bend, Ind. That will be a rematch of the highest-scoring Division I women’s game ever. The Wildcats won 133-130 in four overtimes the first weekend of December at the Dallas Cowboys’ NFL stadium that will host the men’s Final Four. Sims scored 47 points before being one of seven Lady Bears to foul out of that game.
It was in the third round of last year’s NCAA tournament when, then as the defending national champion with two-time AP Player of the Year Brittney Griner and four other seniors, that Baylor was upset by Louisville.
Now, like the Baylor men, this team with a bunch of youngsters led by Sims has gotten them that far again.
“Who woulda thunk it,” said Mulkey, borrowing a phrase from her country mom.
Sims, the Big 12’s top player, also had eight rebounds and six assists. Nina Davis, the league’s top freshman, had 13 points and six rebounds while Niya Johnson had 11 assists.
After the game, the senior trio of Sims, Makenzie Robertson and Mariah Chandler held hands and went around the Ferrell Center court while being cheered by the home fans. Baylor lost only two home games during the four seasons for Sims and Robertson, the coach’s daughter who waited her turn before becoming a starter this season.
The battle of Bears included seven ties and 17 lead changes before halftime, when Baylor was without both Sims and Davis for 7½ minutes because of fouls. Both scored more than 30 pointers in Baylor’s opening-round victory over Western Kentucky.
Baylor played the final 8:10 of the first half without Sims, and Davis joined her on the bench 37 seconds later after also getting her second foul.
But it was while they were the bench that Baylor built its biggest lead of the first half, 29-25 after Khadijiah Cave, a 6-foot-2 freshman post, scored three inside baskets in a span of just more than 2 minutes.
The last lead change came on freshman Imani Wright’s 3-pointer just before halftime for a 34-33 lead. Baylor never trailed again, and opened the second half with seven consecutive points — all by Davis and Sims.
“We just weren’t putting the ball in the basket,” Boyd said. “We had a couple of easy baskets we could have made, but it wasn’t going in. We never lost focus. We fought all the way to the end.”
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