No. 14 Baylor 61, No. 8 Texas A&,M 53
Melissa Jones had the Baylor fans cheering even before she had stepped on the court.
After an injury forced Jones to miss four games, three of them losses by the Lady Bears to knock them out of the Top 10, their emotional fireplug finally returned. She had 17 points, 10 rebounds and even mopped up the floor in boosting No. 14 Baylor to a 61-53 victory over No. 8 Texas A&M on Wednesday night.
``The difference in the ball game? You could say Melissa Jones. Her attitude makes everybody else on that team play hard,'' Aggies coach Gary Blair said. ``Jones looked like she was playing hurt out there a little bit with one leg. But she gutted it out and kept going and that just shows a lot of class.''
Jones didn't start, but the crowd at the Ferrell Center erupted when she got off the bench and went to the scorer's table less than a minute into the game.
``I didn't start her because I thought she would give us that emotional lift coming in immediately,'' Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said.
On Baylor's next possession, Jones tied the game at 2-all and the Lady Bears (15-4, 2-3 Big 12) never trailed again. She passed up a 3-pointer and stepped up for a short baseline jumper on her first shot since Jan. 2. Then she forced a turnover by Tyra White, who traveled trying to get away from Jones, and set up a go-ahead free throw by Kelli Griffin.
Jones was out because of a right leg injury described as a precursor to a stress fracture. Though the junior guard still appeared a bit gimpy at times, she was driving to the basket and diving to the floor after loose balls while playing 36 minutes.
``It's that little boost you get when you're playing a team as good as A&M. That confidence you get going and you're going to keep taking it to them,'' Jones said. ``I don't think I should take the credit for this game at all. I think that our team had a wonderful focus. We were so focused going into the game.''
That focus was much clearer with Jones playing four days after the Lady Bears' surprising loss at Missouri.
``There's a little bit of sense of urgency, and I fully prepared for Melissa,'' Blair said. ``I expected her to play.''
Brittney Griner, the 6-foot-8 freshman sensation, added 20 points with five blocks, and Griffin 13 points for Baylor.
White had 19 points for Texas A&M (15-3, 3-2), which was held 28 points below its season average.
Baylor made 10-of-10 free throws in the final minute, including six by Griffin and two by Jones to counter a pair of 3-pointers by Texas A&M that got the Aggies within 55-50.
When Jones was knocked to the ground after driving for a layup early in the second half, she was on her back on the floor and pumping her fists in celebration.
A few minutes later after a scramble for the ball under the A&M basket that left players on the floor, Jones helped clean up the mess. Jones took a mop from the ballgirl under the basket and used it to dry the floor.
Jones and senior forward Morghan Medlock are the only Baylor players who have been in the Lady Bears program more than two years. Medlock had 10 rebounds.
``I sure wish we would have had her the last four games. That's what you expect players of her caliber to do,'' Mulkey said. ``She makes everybody around her better. ... It's her presence that is so valuable.''
Baylor peaked at No. 5 in the AP poll the first week of January, the last poll before Jones missed her first game. The Lady Bears slipped from 10th to 14th this week.
After Jones had a steal that got Baylor the ball back with about 11 minutes left in the first half, she was fouled and knocked to the ground while driving the lane. She made the first free throw to make it 11-6.
There was then a lengthy delay while officials resolved a problem with the scorekeeper concerning A&M's roster that resulted in a technical foul. When Jones finally got to shoot free throws, she made both of them for a 17-6 lead.
White scored six points in a 22-second span for Texas A&M. She hit a 3-pointer and, following a Baylor miss, had a breakaway layup and a free throw to make it 17-12. But the Aggies never got closer than that.
Baylor had a three-on-one break after another steal by Jones. Shanay Washington drove, dished off to the left to Jones, who then passed the ball to Kelli Griffin for an easy layup.
``She's the glue that holds us together,'' Griner said. ``Having (Jones) on the floor lifted all of us.''