OKLAHOMA CITY -- For the sixth time in a decade, but just the second without either Brittney Griner or Odyssey Sims on the floor, Baylor will play for a place in the Final Four. The constant, of course, is never difficult to spot on the sideline.
Showing off balance that belied the special talents it still has in All-American Nina Davis and national assists leader Niya Johnson, No. 2 Baylor beat No. 3 Iowa 81-66 inside Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Sune Agbuke led Baylor with a career-high 23 points and 12 rebounds, while Davis added 20 points and six rebounds and Johnson totaled 16 assists, the second most ever in an NCAA tournament regional behind Suzie McConnell's 17 assists in 1986.
More to come on this game from Oklahoma City, but here is a first look at how it happened.
Key stat: Melissa Dixon's 2-of-9 3-point shooting. Rebounds were always going to be a loss for the Hawkeyes, and true to form, they struggled on the boards. But the Hawkeyes beat a lot of teams despite struggling on the boards this season. One key element in those wins was Dixon draining 3-pointers. The quantity of attempts was there Friday, but the quality of the looks was sorely lacking for the senior. With rare exception, Baylor defenders didn't give Dixon even the scant amount of room she needs to make use of one of the quickest releases in the sport.
Game-changer: Bethany Doolittle's second foul with more than 12 minutes remaining in the first half changed the complexion of the game. With Doolittle on the bench for a sustained period (although Iowa did take a big risk and get a big reward by playing her late in the half with those fouls), Davis and Agbuke both found more room to operate in the paint on offense. On the other end, Iowa didn't have anyone who could make Agbuke expend energy. Agbuke never did cool down, and from the moment of Doolittle's second foul on, Iowa was chasing the game.
Turning point: Down 36-23 late in the first half and struggling to get good looks, Iowa went on an 11-0 run fueled by both Doolittle's return and Baylor struggling to stop stop Samantha Logic from breaking down its defensive cohesion (Iowa's point guard scored or assisted on three of her team's five field goals during the run). All the momentum was in Iowa's corner as halftime approached, but then Baylor's Kristy Wallace hit a 3-pointer with less than a minute to play, and after an empty Iowa possession, Alexis Prince hit a 3-pointer, almost short-arming the shot to get it off before the buzzer. Two shots, and Baylor regained its comfort zone. The game was never again closer than eight points.
Key player: The Australian assassin. Johnson was terrific. Davis was fantastic as needed. That's what Baylor counts on every game. When Wallace scored 13 points in the second round against Arkansas, it marked just the ninth time this season the Australian freshman reached double figures. This was No. 10. Iowa's zone was effective at times, especially in the first half, but Wallace hit her first seven shots from the floor and opened up the zone for teammates.
Agbuke was the statistical star and ate up Iowa in the paint (and at the elbow, the free throw line and pretty much anywhere she chose to shoot from en route to a career high) but Wallace's perfect night was equally instrumental.
How it was won: Save for a few stretches of the first half, Baylor never really let Iowa get into fifth gear, or even fourth gear, for that matter. The Lady Bears were patient on offense, turning the ball over just eight times and giving Iowa little to feed on in transition. Add in the rebounding, defense and shooting nights from Wallace and Agbuke, and it was easy.
Assists upon assists: Logic played a typically impressive game in her college finale and finished with 14 assists in the game and 898 for her career. The latter is good for 11th in NCAA history. On the other side, Johnson passed her way to history, as well. She eclipsed Sims to become Baylor's all-time leader in assists. That would be an accomplishment no matter what else was true, given what Sims did in Waco, Texas, but she's just a junior, giving her an entire season to put the record far out of reach. Together, the two point guards combined for 30 assists, nearly more than the two highest single-game totals in NCAA tournament regional history.
No Walz, no problem: The first indication that Baylor was going to win might have been Louisville's placement in Albany, New York. Most fans will remember Baylor's most recent Sweet 16 defeat, the epic comeback engineered by coach Jeff Walz and the Louisville Cardinals, but Walz was present for Kim Mulkey's three most recent Sweet 16 defeats. Two of those came against Louisville when he was the head coach and one against Maryland when he was an assistant. Mulkey's only other Sweet 16 loss came in Oklahoma, but that was by far the lesser of the jinxes to worry about.
What's next: A game against No. 1 seed Notre Dame is a rematch of a regional final played one year ago, this time on a neutral court instead of on the Fighting Irish's home court. That was the first win for Notre Dame in five games all time against Baylor, all since the 2010-11 season. The two programs also played for even greater reward, meeting in the 2012 national championship game. That decision went to Baylor to cap a 40-0 season.