FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Sometimes even No. 2 Baylor just has to find a way to win in the Big 12.
The defending national champion Lady Bears, who have won the last nine league titles, overcame the absence of their leading scorer and a fourth-quarter deficit for a 66-57 victory over TCU on Wednesday night.
“It wasn’t very good, but credit TCU. They do a lot of movement, a lot of picks, a lot of flows,” coach Kim Mulkey said. “ We won a tough game on the road without NaLyssa Smith. We won a tough game on the road without making free throws. We’ll take it, get on that bus and head to Waco.”
The Lady Bears (16-1, 5-0 Big 12) extended their record Big 12 regular-season winning streak to 46 games over three years, even with Smith sidelined because of a sprained right ankle. After winning their first four league games by more than 37 points, they trailed by a point before opening the fourth quarter with eight points in a row.
“We all just stayed calm and we knew what we had to do,” Te’a Cooper said. “We focused on defense, get our stops, and we knew we had to knock down free throws.
Queen Egbo, who started in place of Smith, and Cooper each had 14 points. Lauren Cox had 11 points, while DiDi Richards and Juicy Landrum each had 10.
Kianna Ray had 16 points with four 3-pointers to lead TCU (13-4, 4-2), which had its three-game winning streak snapped. Jayde Woods had 13 points and Lauren Heard 11.
“I thought our team came in prepared … they approached this game like we approach every game,” Frogs coach Raegan Pebley said. “I’m proud of where their heads are at, prior to the game, in-game and postgame, and just having an unsatisfied mentality.”
Egbo put Baylor ahead to stay with the her basket to start the fourth quarter. The 8-0 spurt included a basket by Cooper that was changed from a 2-pointer to a 3-pointer after a replay review during a timeout several minutes later.
Baylor led 25-14 midway through the second quarter after Cooper’s pass inside to Egbo for a easy layup. But TCU then had an 11-0 run, only the second time this season a team had at least 10 consecutive points against the Lady Bears, who have had 28 double-digit runs of their own.
Jaycee Bradley’s 3-pointer started the TCU run, and Ray’s second 3 in the spurt tied the game at 25 before Baylor took a 30-26 halftime lead.
Heard’s three-point play at the end of the third quarter gave the Frogs their only lead after halftime, and they didn’t score again until about 4 1/2 minutes into the fourth quarter.
“This loss, it’s going to hurt,” Ray said. “We lost fourth quarter. We just kind of lost momentum, we lost energy, we lost focus.”
Smith initially turned her ankle in a game against Oklahoma State on Jan. 12, and got stepped on Saturday against West Virginia. Mulkey said Smith is good running straight ahead, and wanted to play, but the coach didn’t feel she was ready after watching her in pregame warmups.
NOT SO FREE
Baylor missed their first seven free throws, until Cooper made her second with just under six minutes left for a 52-44 lead. They did hit some down the stretch, finishing 8-of-20 from the line.
Baylor has won 38 consecutive Big 12 road games, second only to No. 3 UConn’s streak of 49 conference wins in a row away from home. That obviously doesn’t count Baylor’s win at then-No. 1 UConn earlier this month that ended the Huskies’ overall 98-game home winning streak.
Baylor: Without Smith, who with 16.3 points and 8.1 rebounds a game is in the top 10 in the Big 12 in both categories, the Lady Bears just seemed out of synch on offense even while shooting 50%.
“You’ve got Lauren who’s not back full speed, you’ve got your starting four player (Smith) over there,” Mulkey said. “Find a way to win, I think that’s the best description.”
TCU: No. 1 South Carolina was the only other team this season with a 10-0 run against Baylor, on Nov. 30 in the only loss by the Lady Bears. Even with that 11-0 spurt, the Lady Frogs lost to Baylor for the 28th time in a row since 1990, including all 16 games as Big 12 foes.
“I think if you have a younger team, you can take a look at that, but I mean our team is too smart and they’re too driven and experienced for me to blow smoke,” Pebley said. “They’re interested in winning, not interested in moral victories.”
Baylor looks to extend its nation’s best home winning streak to 50 games. The Lady Bears play three of their next four games at home, starting Saturday against Texas Tech.
TCU is home again Sunday night to take on West Virginia.
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