No. 4 Baylor tops No. 23 Arizona State 65-59 on the Rez
FORT DEFIANCE, Ariz. (AP) — The Showdown on the Rez featured live performances of Navajo music, ESPN rolling into the Navajo Nation and traditional gifts for both coaches, not to mention a gym full of basketball-loving Native Americans.
Baylor put on quite a show in the paint once the game started.
Nalyssa Smith had 16 points and 11 rebounds, and the fourth-ranked Bears overpowered No. 23 Arizona State inside for a 65-59 victory Sunday night in a game played on the Navajo Nation.
"The first half, just the way they were playing us, we just couldn't get the ball inside," said Baylor's Lauren Cox, who had 14 points and nine rebounds. "In the second half, we were working hard to get position inside and the guards were getting us the ball."
Baylor (3-0) got the Showdown on the Rez off to an ugly start, repeatedly turning the ball over while Kalani Brown spent most of the half on bench in foul trouble.
The Bears fought their way back from an 11-point halftime deficit in the third quarter and used a 12-0 run to build a 55-47 lead midway through the fourth.
They did it by pounding the ball inside.
Arizona State (1-1) slowed Baylor's post players through most of the half, but had a hard time containing them in the second. Baylor had a 46-8 advantage in the paint and 21 more rebounds.
"When they punched us, we didn't have an answer," Arizona State's Kianna Ibis said.
Despite Baylor's dominance inside, Arizona State still went into the fourth quarter with the lead. The Sun Devils then went cold from the floor in the fourth quarter as well, going 4 for 19 in front of a rowdy, mostly pro-Sun Devils crowd. Ibis and Courtney Ekmark had 13 points each for Arizona State, which shot 30 percent from the floor.
"We got enough good looks to finish out that game," Arizona State coach Charli Turner Thorne said. "We've just got to hit them."
The Sun Devils have celebrated Native American culture at a game every season and this year decided to bring the game to the Navajo Nation.
Anticipation built quickly for the game among the Native American communities of northern Arizona and the Bee Holdzil Fighting Scouts Events Center had a buzz long before tipoff between the two power programs.
Arizona State arrived after having it easy in its opener, rolling over Incarnate Word 81-43 behind Jamie Ruden's 15 points.
Baylor had it even easier its first two games, beating Nicholls State and Saint Francis of Pennsylvania by a combined 119 points. The Bears had seven players in double figures against Saint Francis, matching a school record.
Baylor couldn't crack double figures as a team in the first quarter against Arizona State. The Bears had trouble against Arizona State's pressure, but also were sloppy with the ball, turning it over eight times while getting off nine shot attempts.
The Sun Devils also started slow, missing their first five shots, before hitting a few down the stretch to lead 19-8.
"I don't know if we were nervous or what it was," Mulkey said.
Baylor took better care of the ball in the second quarter and hit a few more shots to pull within six, but a late Arizona State burst put the Sun Devils up 35-24 at halftime.
The Bears started getting the ball inside more and made more shots in there to start the third quarter, going on a 12-2 run to pull within 38-36. Baylor tied it at 43-all, but went scoreless over the final 2:58 to trail by four.
Baylor made up for its shaky start with a dominating second half to make it a memorable trip to the Rez.
Arizona State is bigger this season, but had a time against Baylor's size — just like nearly every team in the country will.
THE EVENTS CENTER
Many of the players came to Fort Defiance wondering what the arena would be like.
They were happily surprised to find the Bee Holdzil Fighting Scouts Events Center to be a state-of-the-art facility filled with a loud, rowdy crowd.
"It's hard to believe this is a high school gym," Ibis said. "This is better than my high school gym."
Part of the reason for the game was to help inspire kids to use basketball as a springboard to bigger things beyond the reservation.
"We lost, but the event won," Turner Thorne said. "What a great event."
Baylor hosts Southern on Thursday night.
Arizona State plays at Arkansas next Sunday.