WACO (AP) – Nina Davis arrived at Baylor as an undersized post player, with an unorthodox style and uncanny ability to get rebounds and slip around defenders to score.
The 5-foot-11 forward became an AP All-American, the Big 12 player of the year and will leave Baylor as only the fifth player in school history with more than 2,000 points and more than 1,000 rebounds.
But there is still something missing as she faces her last chance for a trip to the NCAA Final Four and a national title.
“I feel like I have accomplished a lot of things as far as player of the year and the things that just happened in the Big 12,” Davis said. “But without that Final Four, and us getting into the national championship, that’s for sure a huge piece of the puzzle.”
Baylor (30-3) opens the NCAA Tournament at home Saturday against SWAC Tournament champion Texas Southern. The Lady Bears are the No. 1 seed in the Oklahoma City Regional , and are trying to get to their first Final Four since an undefeated 40-0 national championship five years ago.
Each of Davis’ first three seasons ended with a loss in the Elite Eight. The finale last year was in Dallas, about 100 miles from the Waco campus — and where this year’s Final Four will be played.
“It’s a little different than it’s been in the past three years, I guess, just knowing in the back of my mind that this is my last go-around, there’s no more tomorrow,” Davis said. “There’s not an “Oh, we lost in the Elite Eight this year, but there’s still next year.’ So it’s definitely a sense of urgency.”
For the only time in her career, Davis wasn’t a first-team All-Big 12 pick this season, though she was on the All-Big 12 Tournament team for the fourth straight year. She won’t be an All-American again since her senior-season averages of 12.5 points and 5.6 rebound per game are both career lows.
But there is an easy explanation to why her numbers are down for Baylor, which won its seventh straight Big 12 regular-season title but lost in the conference tournament for the first time in that span.
“She had the carry the load for this program for two or three years, and then as you recruit, you get bigger, you get as-talented players, it’s about the team,” coach Kim Mulkey said. “Unfortunately, All-America teams are usually selected on stats, and not watching every kid that plays. … Her name and her legacy will always been an All-American at Baylor.”
Then Mulkey held up her hand, pointing to a ring finger, and pointing out that the only thing missing for Davis is a Final Four.
With former Duke transfer and scoring guard Alexis Jones healthy most of the season, the scoring load clearly shifted some. Meanwhile, sophomore post players Kalani Brown (6-foot-7) and Beatrice Mompremier (6-4) continued to develop inside, with that sophomore duo combining to average more than 23 points and 14 rebounds a game.
Davis knew her role would change with their emergence, and she was OK with that. She said it’s been a great senior year so far.
“We’re 30-3. I’ve been hearing all kinds of things, my numbers have been down, I wasn’t first-team All-Big 12 for the first time, I wasn’t All-American,” Davis said. “It’s been crazy. I’ve heard it all, but I’m happy where I’m at right now. … I’ve been helping my team in the different areas that they need, and that’s really all that matters.”
(© Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)