No. 1 Baylor 83, No. 22 UCLA 50
When first-year UCLA coach Cori Close asked Rebekah Gardner after the game what she wanted from the rest of her team moving forward, the senior guard responded with one phrase - ''box out.''
The 22nd-ranked Bruins weren't able to do that against Brittney Griner and No. 1 Baylor, which took over after halftime and went on to an 83-50 win in a semifinal game of the preseason WNIT.
''We have to be a 40-minute team, like we were playing with them in the first half,'' Gardner said. ''Like I said, we need to box out.''
Griner opened the second half with a putback basket of her own miss while being fouled, and just like that the tone was set for the Lady Bears to completely dominate the rest of the way.
A couple of minutes after Griner's physical play, Baylor went on a 30-2 run during which UCLA (2-1) had 10 turnovers and the Lady Bears had nine offensive rebounds.
''Well, it was really simple, rebounding and taking care of the basketball,'' UCLA first-year coach Cori Close said.
The victory by the Lady Bears (3-0) sets up a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup in the WNIT championship game. They play No. 2 Notre Dame at home on Sunday, after the Irish beat Hartford 98-43 earlier Thursday night.
Griner had 18 points with 14 rebounds, the 28th double-double in 75 career games for Griner, the 6-foot-8 junior phenom who was a unanimous preseason AP All-American pick after also being on that team at the end of last season. Her six blocked shots pushed her career total to 410, only 36 from matching the Big 12 career record.
Odyssey Sims scored 22 points while Destiny Williams had 16 points and 10 rebounds for Baylor.
Gardner had 15 points and nine rebounds to lead UCLA, which is playing without two injured starters.
The Bruins held tough before halftime, down only 27-23 just before the break.
''You can't give a team confidence, they have to earn it,'' Close said. ''The first half, I think they earned some confidence, they earned something that they can build on moving forward. ... In the second half, we crumbled, there's no doubt about it, but I think our young ladies are coachable enough to learn from that.''
Jasmine Dixon was UCLA's lone returning starter after being its second-leading scorer and top rebounder last season, but she was lost for this season when she ruptured her Achilles tendon in a workout in September. The Bruins are hopeful that Markel Walker, another expected starter, can return next month after undergoing offseason thumb surgery.
Baylor had scored 19 consecutive points after Griner blocked a shot that Jordan Madden caught and then drove the length of the court of a layup for a 56-29 lead. Thea Lemberger's reach-in jumper with 9:50 left was their UCLA's first field goal in 8 1/2 minutes, but Baylor then scored 11 more in a row.
''When we start making runs like that, I get a blocked shot and my team reacts and gets it, you definitely start feeding off that,'' Griner said. ''You want to get it again. ... Each time we try to make a play or get a steal or a big board, we just keep trying to do that.''
Baylor finished with a 52-34 rebounding edge, and outscored UCLA 48-18 in the paint.
''Your defense can be special for you,'' coach Kim Mulkey said. ''It was a great example for them, to see what I've been trying to tell them. We're going to have lots of offensive nights like this. But if they'll just commit to being the best defensive team that maybe we've had here, I think they'll understand that, hey, you finally hung in there long enough to extend the lead.''
Notre Dame was the national runner-up last season, but the Irish lost 76-65 in a December game at Baylor.
It will be Baylor's second 1 vs. 2 game, though its first as the No. 1 team. The Lady Bears were No. 2 when they loss 65-64 at top-ranked Connecticut the first week of last season.
''Who scheduled this? Who agreed to this?,'' Mulkey said sarcastically. ''But it's OK. I say it all the time, you don't win championships in November and December.''
UCLA's best spurt of the game was an 8-0 run before halftime during a stretch when Baylor had five turnovers and Mulkey was assessed a technical foul. The Bruins were within 27-23 on Gardner's pull-up jumper with 28 seconds left.
The Bruins were within 27-23 on Gardner's pull-up jumper with 28 seconds left.
Baylor had the final possession, and Sims held the ball in the backcourt before making her move. She drove for a layup with 4.8 seconds left and made the free throw after being fouled.