TAMPA, Fla. — Baylor advanced to the national championship game after a thrilling 72-67 win over Oregon in the Women’s Final Four at Amalie Arena on Friday. The Lady Bears will meet the winner of UConn-Notre Dame in their first trip to the NCAA title game since winning it all in 2012. Here’s how Baylor won.
Cox, not Ionescu, was the triple-double threat
Oregon junior guard Sabrina Ionescu is the NCAA’s all-time leader in triple-doubles, but Baylor’s Lauren Cox was the best all-around player on the court Friday. The 6-foot-4 Cox did the big things with 21 points, 11 rebounds and 7 assists, and she did the little things like setting the perfect screen to free Chloe Jackson for the go-ahead layup with 41 seconds to play. It put Baylor up for good 69-67 in a game that featured 12 ties and 12 lead changes.
On Oregon’s next trip down the floor, Cox on defense forced Oregon’s Satou Sabally to take a long 2-point jump shot rather than a 3-pointer that could have potentially given the Ducks the lead. Sabally, who had nailed a 3-pointer with 1:40 to play, missed this time. Baylor secured the rebound and Cox hit two free throws on the other end to make it a two-possession game with 18 seconds left.
Ionescu made just 6 of 24 field goal attempts, and the 25 percent shooting was her third worst in a game this season. Much is made of Baylor’s size with Cox and 6-7 Kalani Brown, but the Lady Bears’ length on the perimeter — DiDi Richards and Juicy Landrum spent most of the game guarding her — bothered Ionescu. She managed 15 of her 18 points when Richards was defending her, but on just 5-of-14 shooting. After a scoreless first quarter, Ionescu scored 12 in the second, which gave Oregon a one-point lead at halftime. But the junior guard did not score in the fourth quarter (she was 0-for-7 from the field), as the Ducks shot just 26.3 percent in the final 10 minutes.
Battle of styles played out as expected
Heading into the game, the storyline was simple: Baylor’s prowess inside vs. Oregon’s versatile perimeter shooting. And it went exactly as expected. The Ducks couldn’t contain Cox or Brown down low. Baylor’s powerful post players combined to score 43 points on 18-of-26 shooting. The Lady Bears finished with huge 48-20 advantage on points in the paint. Richards was also a factor inside with 15 points, mostly on short jumpers in the lane.
Oregon, meanwhile, outscored Baylor 36-0 from the 3-point line. The Lady Bears, who entered the game getting fewer points from 3-pointers than any team in the country, attempted just three. Oregon coach Kelly Graves had said coming into the game that his team would need to make at least 12 3-pointers to have a realistic chance. That’s exactly what the Ducks made — shooting 12-of-32 — with Erin Boley (14 points) hitting 4 of 12 attempts and Ionescu hitting 4 of 11. But they still fell short.
Oregon struggled to score inside
Baylor’s size played out on the defensive end as well. Cox blocked three shots and contested many more. Oregon center Ruthy Hebard, who came in averaging 16.4 points per game, got off only four field goal attempts, none in the first half. Hebard finished with just four points going against the Baylor bigs.
Oregon actually got off 11 more shots than the Lady Bears, but shot just 37 percent for the game and 36 percent on 2-point field goals. The Ducks entered the game shooting 50.5 percent on the season. Oregon’s shooting also disappeared late. Baylor outscored Oregon 11-3 over the final 6:12 of the game, and the Ducks were 1-for-13 from the floor during that run.
Richards big at both ends
Richards, a 6-1 sophomore, averaged just 6.3 points per game during the regular season, but has scored in double figures in Baylor’s past three NCAA tournament games.
Her defense on Ionescu was one of the key elements in Baylor’s win, its 28th in a row, but Richards was also the team’s leading scorer behind Brown and Cox and made 6 of 10 field goal attempts.