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Texas takes down Baylor to claim Big 12 women's basketball tournament title

KANSAS CITY -- The last time Texas won the Big 12 women's basketball tournament title -- March 15, 2003 -- Longhorns freshman guard Rori Harmon was not quite 2 months old. She was born in late January of that year.

On Sunday, she was named the most outstanding player of the tournament as the No. 3 seed Longhorns upset No. 1 seed Baylor 67-58 to take a long sought-after title, the program's second since the Big 12 began in the 1996-97 season.

The Longhorns' win was just their second against Baylor since 2011 and kept the Bears -- who have dominated the conference for the past decade -- from their 12th Big 12 tournament title. It also cost Baylor a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Harmon had 20 points, 5 assists and 5 rebounds Sunday, and took a charge in the second quarter against Baylor's NaLyssa Smith that was game-changing. Smith tweaked her knee and left the game for the remainder of the first half, although she returned in the second half. But it was her third foul and reinforced that the tone of this game would be set by Texas' defense.

"Yes, she's pretty big, and I'm pretty small," the 5-foot-6 Harmon said of the 6-2 Smith. "But you have to know the stats at the moment. Know that, 'If I take this charge right now, they're probably going to have to take her out.' So I took the charge, didn't feel nothing, got right back up. I'm not worried about it. I will sacrifice my body for my teammates."

Coach Vic Schaefer, in his second season at Texas after taking Mississippi State to two national championship games, beamed while Harmon spoke. As both an assistant and head coach, he has been known for defense. Having snapped Baylor's 12-game winning streak this season while extending Texas' streak to 11 in a row, Schaefer's Longhorns sent a message for the upcoming NCAA tournament and next season as well.

Texas' only other victory over Baylor since 2011 was in 2017, when Karen Aston was coach of the Longhorns and Kim Mulkey coach of Baylor. Aston was let go after the 2020 season in large part because of a lack of success against the Bears, and Schaefer took over. Mulkey departed for LSU last April, and Nicki Collen left the Atlanta Dream to take over in Waco. Baylor won the regular-season title and looked poised to grab an NCAA No. 1 seed if it had won Sunday.

Instead, the Bears go into the tournament trying to shake off this loss. Smith said she thought she may have hyperextended her knee after the collision with Harmon, but that she never considered not playing the second half. She finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds.

"I don't like to lose, so it's going to stick with me for a little bit," Smith said. "But I know we've got to move on to the tournament."

Collen said the goal with Smith playing in the second half was to see how she felt, and that Baylor would have pulled her "very, very, very quickly" had she felt bad.

"It hurts because we wanted to be out there celebrating," Collen said of the loss. "We wanted to finish it the same way we did the regular season. I think we played incredibly well for the last two months, but we didn't play well tonight. Texas' ball pressure frazzled us. We just didn't get many clean attacks. I told the team in the locker room, 'Sometimes you just have to throw games in the trash.' And to me, this is a game we've gotta throw in the trash.

"We're just happy [Smith's] injury isn't more significant. I think this team has jelled down the stretch. We put ourselves in position for a good seed, and now we've got to move forward."