WACO, Texas (AP) Nina Davis and Odyssey Sims put on a quite a show for Baylor coach Kim Mulkey to watch from home.
With their coach serving an NCAA suspension, Davis made her tournament debut with 32 points and 10 rebounds while senior standout Sims scored 31 points for the Lady Bears in an 87-74 first-round victory over Western Kentucky on Saturday night.
”It was different not seeing her face on the sideline, hearing her voice screaming and hollering at us,” said Davis, getting a chuckle from those around the Big 12’s top freshman.
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Mulkey will be back Monday night when the No. 2 seed Lady Bears (30-4) stay home to play No. 7 seed California (22-9). Both teams are trying to get back to the Sweet Sixteen.
”Sure she went crazy when they tried to cut into the lead, and we were only up five. We were trying to make a run and they kept hitting a 3, getting an and-1, getting easy buckets around the rim,” Sims said. ”I’m pretty sure she threw something at the TV a couple of times, took a walk. You know. `’
But Western Kentucky (24-9) led only once – for 16 seconds in the first half before Davis and Sims combined for all the Baylor points in a 14-4 run. Davis already had 24 points by halftime, and Sims had 15.
The only Baylor player who had ever scored 30 points in an NCAA tournament game was Brittney Griner, the two-time AP Player of the Year who did it five times. The Lady Bears hadn’t had two 30-point scorers since Danielle Crockrom and Sheila Lambert in a Big 12 game against Missouri on Feb. 18, 2001, during Mulkey’s first season in Waco.
It was the first pair of teammates with 30-point games in the NCAA women’s tournament since Gonzaga in 2011, according to STATS.
Davis, who led the Big 12 with her 61-percent shooting, dominated inside while making 11 of 13 field goals, and hit 10 of 16 free throws. Sims, in her 14th NCAA tournament game, was 11-of-20 shooting with four 3-pointers.
Chastity Gooch had 23 points for the Lady Toppers (24-9), and Sun Belt top freshman Kendall Noble had 21. Bianca McGee had 18 points that included four 3s.
Mulkey served a one-game suspension for criticizing the officiating after the then-defending national champion Lady Bears’ upset loss to Louisville in a very physical Sweet Sixteen game last March. Associate head coach Bill Brock filled in and is now 2-0 in his career when he’s had to coach in Mulkey’s place – he also did when Mulkey was ill during a regular-season game 10 years ago.
Brock got a loud standing ovation when he walked out on the court a few minutes before the game. And, the fans were still cheering when the game ended.
”When I walked out there and the fans started standing and clapping, that made me relax a little bit, to be honest with you,” Brock said.
Mulkey also missed the 2009 NCAA opener after surgery to remove a kidney stone. Then-associate coach Leon Barmore was in charge for that game against as No. 15 seed, and the Lady Bears won in overtime against Texas-San Antonio.
This time, the Lady Bears had a double-digit lead for most of the final 5 minutes and clinched their fourth consecutive 30-win season. They have won first-round NCAA games 11 years in a row, with three of the last four at home.
Western Kentucky had its only lead after Gooch scored the first eight points in an 11-2 run. The Lady Toppers went ahead 28-27 on McGee’s 3 with 6:43 left in the first half after Gooch had made a 3-pointer, a three-point play and a layup the previous 4 minutes.
But the Lady Bears responded with a 3-minute spurt led appropriately by Davis and Sims for a 41-32 lead that was their largest in the first half.
The Lady Toppers were in the NCAA tournament for the 17th time, but their first since 2008. They have been to three Final Fours.
They were 9-21 two years ago, but have now had 22 and 24 wins in their two seasons under coach and former WKU player Michelle Clark-Heard.
”We weren’t intimated by them at all. We knew they were a good team, but we were prepared for everything they threw at us,” Noble said. ”We just fell up a little short.”