Loss snaps Baylor’s Big 12 streak

Until Sunday, Baylor had won 44 straight Big 12 regular-season games. AP Photo/Orlin Wagner

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- In Waco, Texas, on Monday night, Baylor gave No. 1 UConn a run for its money before losing 66-55. The Lady Bears played a close, competitive game against the favorite for the national championship. Everybody (me included) said, "Wow, look out for Baylor! They are definitely the team to beat in the Big 12. Maybe they have a run to the Final Four in them."

Less than a week later, all that stuff is still true, but it's tempered after the No. 7 Lady Bears were upset by unranked Kansas 76-60 Sunday. The loss ended Baylor's 44-game regular-season winning streak against Big 12 foes.

The last time Baylor lost to a team in its league was in the 2011 NCAA Elite Eight to Texas A&M, a school that now is in the SEC. The last time a team that's still in the Big 12 beat Baylor was Feb. 19, 2011, when Texas Tech did it.

If Texas Tech, which is winless in Big 12 play, were to knock off Baylor this season, that would be a huge shock. But it's not as if Kansas doing it was not shocking as well.

Consider that, coming into Sunday's matchup at Allen Fieldhouse, the Jayhawks were under .500 for the season and had just one Big 12 win -- against woeful Texas Tech.

Kansas coach Bonnie Henrickson was 1-15 in her Jayhawks career against Baylor. And in Waco on Jan. 5, Baylor had soundly beaten Kansas 75-55. Put it all together and we were supposed to see a fairly comfortable Baylor win Sunday. Nobody anticipated this, right?

Well, one person did.

"Look, I threw them out of practice the day before yesterday," Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said of her players. "I saw this coming. I've been around the game a long time. They couldn't understand why. I think now they probably know. So it's not like we didn't prepare or I didn't try to get their attention. We did everything we could -- but I bet their attention is gotten now."

Mulkey knew her young players were perhaps too buoyed by their performance against UConn and not ready for potential adversity on the road in the Big 12. She said she saw the "deer in the headlights" look from several of them Sunday.

Baylor senior guard Odyssey Sims had 31 points, but it took her a school-record 37 shot attempts to get that. She made 13 shots from the field and 3 of 5 free throws. Combined with her 4-of-25 night against UConn, Sims has shot 27.4 percent (17-of-62) in her last two games.

Is she trying to do too much? Perhaps, but you understand why she feels so compelled to carry the weight for Baylor. No other Baylor player scored in double figures Sunday. As a team, the Lady Bears shot 30.4 percent (24-of-79).

"I would say not a lot of production out of any post player that played -- and I think I played them all," Mulkey said. "Not only were they not scoring the ball, they didn't rebound it, they didn't flash to the ball. They were non-existent. We didn't give Odyssey much help. She battled. We couldn't score the ball. We had a lot of shots rim in and out. We'll have to go back to work and figure it out."

While this is surprising, considering what we saw from Baylor against UConn, in another way, as Mulkey indicated, it isn't totally out of the blue. We have to remember that Sims is the lone starter back for the Lady Bears, who lost five seniors off last year's squad, including No. 1 WNBA draft pick Brittney Griner and fellow experienced post players Destiny Williams and Brooklyn Pope. That's a whole lot of expertise on the low block that isn't there anymore for Baylor.

Meanwhile, Kansas lost three senior starters from last year's Sweet 16 team, so the Jayhawks have had some rebuilding to do too. One of their returning starters, junior forward Chelsea Gardner, took advantage of Baylor's lapses inside Sunday, as she had 28 points and 13 rebounds.

"I just knew I had to be more aggressive," Gardner said, "And when Sune [Agbuke] got in foul trouble, I knew I could get some open looks."

Gardner said she thought coming into the game that the Jayhawks had a chance to beat Baylor. But it didn't look that way early Sunday, as the Lady Bears got off to an 8-0 lead.

The Jayhawks regrouped and changed the whole feel of the game by halftime, when they trailed just 32-31.

"We were struggling to defend and to get rebounds," KU junior guard Natalie Knight said. "[Coach] kind of told us, 'Wake up!' We weren't ready to play at the beginning. But we wanted to be able to play with them."

Last year, Knight had a promising season cut short on Jan. 30 when she tore the ACL in her right knee. She's a local kid -- from Olathe, Kan., about 30 minutes east of Lawrence -- and was essentially born a Jayhawk. Both of her parents graduated from KU, and she has three uncles who played basketball for Kansas.

Knight was 6-of-11 from the field for 18 points Sunday. This was a big win for her personally, as well as for her team.

"I definitely think it increases our confidence," Knight said. "The coaches have been expecting more out of us, and we're like, 'We're not winning.' We were kind of getting down on ourselves. So this was really good for us."

The Jayhawks' big win Sunday followed another upset in the Big 12 Saturday night, when unranked Kansas State beat No. 13 Iowa State 80-74. The Wildcats are still just 8-9 overall, but their win was a message to the top of the Big 12 that things aren't necessarily going to be as by the book as perhaps everyone thought. The Jayhawks' victory over Baylor reinforced that.

Kansas can't -- and won't -- celebrate too long, as another ranked team, No. 11 Oklahoma State, comes to Lawrence on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Baylor will take a drop in the polls, dust itself off and go home a little sadder but wiser to face Kansas State on Wednesday. It's still just January. Baylor is still at the top of the Big 12 standings with Oklahoma State and West Virginia. And sometimes a little bitter medicine is just the thing for a young team.

"There are a lot of freshmen in [our] locker room that don't know to compete," Mulkey said. "They think when things are going good, it's good. And when it goes bad, they don't know how to fix it. It's our job to help them fix it."