KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For the first 10 minutes Friday, it was anyone’s game to win.
It was the next 10 minutes, however, that did the Kansas State women’s basketball team in against top-ranked and undefeated Baylor.
The Wildcats played nearly even with the Bears to start the game, trading baskets with the only undefeated team in America.
But in the end, it was too much Baylor and far too much Brittney Griner for fifth-seeded K-State to keep pace with, as Baylor cruised to an 86-65 victory over the Wildcats in the semifinal round of the of the Big 12 Championship at Municipal Auditorium.
Griner stole the show on Friday, scoring a Big 12-tournament record 45 points, while grabbing 10 rebounds to go with seven blocked shots.
The 6-foot-8 junior scored 23 points in the first half and 21 of Baylor’s first 27 points. Griner, who was 19-of-28 from the field, was clearly on a record pace, but once Baylor coach Kim Mulkey realized late in the game how close her prized center was to the Big 12 record, she opted to leave her in to finish the job.
Then with 2:32 to play, Griner buried a pair of free throws to surpass the previous record of 43 points scored by Oklahoma State’s Andrea Riley in 2010.
“I was getting ready to take her out, and my coaches said, ‘Coach, she’s five points away. We know you’re not about records, but why not?’” Mulkey said. “So, I left her out there to make sure she got it. If she would’ve been 10, 12, 15 away, I wouldn’t have done it.
“But five points, you may never get that close again.”
K-State tried to defend Griner by pushing her away from the rim and getting the phenom out of her comfort zone. But even then, Griner would make the catch high and then shoot over the top of K-State’s defenders.
“When she’s stepping back making shots over all of us like she is, there’s not much you can do,” said K-State junior guard Brittany Chambers, who had a team-high 18 points and eight rebounds. “The most you can do is keep pushing her further and further away from the basket. But she wasn’t missing tonight.”
K-State coach Deb Patterson said, at the end of the day, there really isn’t a good way to defend Griner, because nothing seems to work when Baylor is determined to feed her the ball.
“(Mulkey) understands that’s the best player in the country and they get her the ball,” she said. “Today, in particular, with the size mismatch that they have against Kansas State, it’s just a given that they’re going to go to Griner, and they did. Go to the well when she’s hitting shots at the rate she is.
“You can send two to her, but she’s still going to score over you, and then you run into all kinds of issues with your rebounding, which is what you saw as we began to give up rebounds once we went to the zone.”
And despite Griner’s torrid start, the Wildcats were still in the game and trailing just 21-18 with 10:58 remaining in the first half. Childs, who had a career-high 31 points on Thursday in the Wildcats’ win over Iowa State, scored K-State’s first seven points of the game, including a rare 3-pointer for the post. Childs, along with JuliAnne Chisholm, finished with 11 points apiece.
Then Chambers got into the mix and buried a pair of 3-pointers to help the Wildcats (19-13) keep pace with the Bears, who won their 33rd straight game and third this season against K-State.
But it wouldn’t last.
Baylor, which outrebounded K-State 41-33, shut the Wildcats down to close out the first half with a decisive 21-4 run. K-State, which shot just 27 percent from the field in the opening half, went nearly 4 minutes without a basket at one point, followed by another 6-minute scoring lull, while the Bears continued to pour it on for a 42-22 halftime lead.
The Wildcats, who were outscored 44-43 in the second half, now wait until Monday to learn of their NCAA tournament fate. The Wildcats were considered in the field prior to their win over the Cyclones in the quarterfinals. Losing to Baylor Friday actually helps K-State’s cause by improving an already-strong RPI (No. 19) and strength of schedule that ranked fifth as of Thursday night.
As of Friday night ESPN’s Charlie Creme had K-State projected as a No. 9 seed playing in South Bend, Ind., against California in the first round — with a possible matchup with No. 1-seed Notre Dame looming in the second round.
“I’m hopeful that after playing the RPI and the strength of schedule that we did, which was astronomical, that we’ll get a good seed,” Patterson said. “I think we’re very deserving of it and have completed the kind of season that the NCAA committee says secures you a bid and a strong quality seed.”
The NCAA tournament field will be announced Monday night at 6 on ESPN (Ch. 32).
Country music star Trace Adkins was on hand to sing the National Anthem Friday afternoon, but perhaps only because he’s a Baylor Bears fan, or rather a Kim Mulkey fan.
Adkins attended Louisiana Tech where he was a walk-on football player, while Mulkey was the senior point guard for the reigning national champion basketball team. Though they didn’t know each other personally then, the two have become friends in recent months, even signing the National Anthem at a Baylor home game earlier this season.
Following his performance, Adkins made his way behind the Bears’ bench where he sat next to Baylor president Ken Starr.