OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Sune Agbuke had plenty of time to embrace her role as a rebounder and shot-blocking specialist for Baylor.
The senior picked her final NCAA Tournament to have the scoring performance of her collegiate career.
Agbuke, who entered Friday with a season average of 5.9 points per game, scored a career-high 23 as the No. 2 seed Lady Bears (33-3) rolled to an 81-66 win over third-seeded Iowa on Friday night.
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The win moves Baylor into the Elite Eight for the fifth time in six years, where it will face top-seeded Notre Dame on Sunday with a chance to reach its first Final Four since 2012.
It’s a victory that came in the most unexpected fashion, with the 6-foot-4 Agbuke emerging from her usual defensive role to play a leading role. Her previous career best was a 16-point effort against Kansas State last season, and she added 12 rebounds for the Lady Bears.
”I think the greatest feeling you have as a player is getting to come through for your team,” Agbuke said. ”Any opportunity you have to do that, you get to come through for your team, that’s just the best feeling.”
Nina Davis added 20 points and Niya Johnson had 10 points and 16 assists for the Lady Bears, who outrebounded the Hawkeyes (26-8) 45-35, but it was Agbuke who outshined her more-heralded teammates.
Agbuke scored a combined seven points in Baylor’s two opening NCAA Tournament wins over Northwestern State and Arkansas. And she had finished with double-digit points only once in her last seven games.
That is, up until Friday’s breakout performance – if a senior can have such a thing – with many of the shots coming on jumpers near the free throw line.
”They were just leaving Sune open, so that’s a free throw,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. ”She doesn’t shoot a lot for us because she’s not given that opportunity up there. They chose to guard us that way, and Sune will shoot it every time she’s left open.”
After falling behind by as many 13 points in the first half, Iowa cut Baylor’s lead to two points late in the half.
However, the Hawkeyes quickly fell behind after a pair of late 3-pointers by the Lady Bears and never led despite Samantha Logic’s triple-double of 13 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists.
Iowa was making its first Sweet 16 appearance since 1996, one that ended in large part to the unexpected performance of Agbuke.
”Playing in one of these games, you know Davis is going to get hers,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. ”… But you really need to keep track of everybody else, and (Agbuke) really did very, very well today. She hit the 15-foot shot like it was a layup today for her.”
Bethany Doolittle led Iowa with 16 points, while Kali Perschel had 12 and Melissa Dixon added 10.
After opening the game on an 8-0 run, Baylor appeared in control while going up 36-23 late in the half – its largest lead that came after an inside basket by Davis.
Iowa, however, stormed back with an 11-0 run following a timeout. Logic capped the run with a remarkable spin move and layup in the lane to cut the Lady Bears’ lead to 36-34.
Just when it appeared the Hawkeyes were about to tie the game for the first time since the opening tip, Baylor closed the half with a pair of 3-pointers that crushed Iowa’s hard-fought momentum. Kristy Wallace hit the first to put the Lady Bears up 39-34, capping a first half in which the freshman was 5 of 5 from the field.
Then, following a stop on the other end, Alexis Prince hit a 3-pointer from the left wing as the buzzer sounded – sending an energized Baylor off the court in celebration and with a 42-34 halftime lead.
The momentum was all the Lady Bears needed in the second half.
”We would have had momentum going in the half, and we’ve just got to learn to get stops there,” Logic said. ”Might have been a different game then.”
Iowa: Logic’s triple-double was her second of the season. The 5-foot-9 senior, third in the country with an average of 7.9 assists per game, also had 12 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists in a 90-83 win over Dayton on Nov. 22.
Baylor: Agbuke had scored in double figures just once in her last seven games entering Friday. She wasted little time in reaching that mark against Iowa, scoring after one of her five offensive rebounds to open the second half.
Amazingly, Johnson’s 16 assists without a turnover wasn’t her best passing performance of the season. The junior, who leads the country with 8.7 assists per game, had 17 assists and no turnovers in an 89-66 win over Oklahoma on Feb. 11.