WACO, Texas (AP) — Sixth-ranked Kentucky was never able to press the issue against defending national champion Baylor.
Brittney Griner and the No. 1 Lady Bears are just that good, and easily passed what was supposed to be their first real challenge with an overwhelming 85-51 victory Tuesday night.
“Having an opportunity to play on this kind of stage really opened our eyes and really got us focused. And to come out here and take a loss like we did, the way we react is something that only we can control,” guard Bria Goss said. “The feeling I feel now I don’t want to feel again. So it’s just going to make me work harder.”
After unfurling their 2012 national championship banner high from the rafters at the Ferrell Center before the game, the Lady Bears (2-0) went on to build a 46-19 halftime lead. That was against a team that returned four starters and is favored to repeat as SEC champions.
Griner scored 27 points with eight rebounds, while Odyssey Sims added 18 points with six assists and four steals. Destiny Williams had 14 points and 12 rebounds.
A’dia Mathies, the reigning SEC player of the year, had 12 points on 3-of-18 shooting for Kentucky (1-1) while defended by Jordan Madden. Goss had 11 points.
“I wish we had played better, I really wish we had, and I wish we had done a better job tonight, because I know a lot of people were excited about this game. And not just people rooting for Baylor and Kentucky,” coach Matthew Mitchell said. “Those things are very disappointing. I cannot focus on that. As the leader, we just have to react appropriately and figure out what we need to do.”
Griner missed her first two shots, and put Baylor up 13-8 when she finally scored on a layup 6½ minutes into the game. That started a 2-minute span when the 6-foot-8 All-American scored 10 points, extending the lead to 23-13.
She then made 11 consecutive field goals before missing a short hook shot with just under 10 minutes left in the game. By that time Baylor led 69-33, and Griner was out of the game for good on the next timeout.
It was 25-15 when Goss made a layup for Kentucky with 7:52 left in the half. The Wildcats then went more than 5 minutes without scoring until Goss made a 3-pointer.
In the meantime, Baylor scored 17 points in a row. Sims had 10 of those points, including a pair of three-point plays, the later with 3:04 left that stretched the lead to 42-15.
Kentucky wasn’t able to go fully with its tenacious defense — a pressure, trapping, and often in-your-face attack. The Wildcats still forced 22 turnovers, but managed only 12 points off those miscues.
“When you’re getting layups on the other end and you’re beating the press, that press is only good if you’re turning the ball over,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. “I just thought for the second game of the year, to do what we did, and do it comfortably, maybe I just need to sit down and not get so stressed out.”
The Lady Bears head to Hawaii next, where they play fourth-ranked Stanford on Friday in the opener of the Rainbow Wahine Classic. That is a rematch of last season’s national semifinal game Baylor won 59-47 in Denver.
Baylor has also won 42 games in a row at home. That is tied with Miami (Fla.), for the second longest active home winning streak behind Stanford’s 80 in a row.
Sims, Griner and Williams were already in double-figure scoring by halftime. Brooklyn Pope finished with 10 points.
Kentucky plays its next four games at home before its Dec. 2 instate showdown at eighth-ranked Louisville.
“I don’t think we got any less talented tonight. We have some talent. And as coaches, we’ll put our heads together and figure out what we need to do. We have a long way to go,” Mitchell said. “I think it’s OK to be disappointed, I think it’s unacceptable to be discouraged. We’ll move forward from it.”