WACO, Texas — Even Baylor coach Kim Mulkey seemed surprised at how things went in what was supposed to be the defending national champion’s first real challenge.
Brittney Griner and the Lady Bears overwhelmed sixth-ranked Kentucky 85-51 on Tuesday night, never allowing the defending SEC champion to press the way it likes to do and winning their 42nd consecutive game. Baylor took control early, and 13 players got in the game.
“When you’re getting layups on the other end and you’re beating the press, that press is only good if you’re turning the ball over,” Mulkey said. “I just thought for the second game of the year, to do what we did, and do it comfortably, maybe I just need to sit down and not get so stressed out.”
After unfurling their 2012 national championship banner high from the rafters at the Ferrell Center before the game, the Lady Bears (2-0) went on to build a 46-19 halftime lead. That was against a team that returned four starters and is favored to win the SEC again.
Griner scored 27 points with eight rebounds, while Odyssey Sims added 18 points with six assists and four steals. Destiny Williams had 14 points and 12 rebounds.
“We knew they press a lot, there was going to be pressure. Like coach said, I think we handled it well,” Griner said. “Now this game is over, it’s time to focus on Stanford, remember some from the Final Four, and now it’s time to get in the film room.”
The Lady Bears head to Hawaii next, where they play fourth-ranked Stanford on Friday in the opener of the Rainbow Wahine Classic. That is a rematch of last season’s national semifinal game Baylor won 59-47 in Denver.
A’dia Mathies, the reigning SEC player of the year, had 12 points on 3-of-18 shooting for Kentucky (1-1) while defended by Jordan Madden. Bria Goss had 11 points.
“I wish we had played better, I really wish we had, and I wish we had done a better job tonight, because I know a lot of people were excited about this game. And not just people rooting for Baylor and Kentucky,” coach Matthew Mitchell said. “Those things are very disappointing. I cannot focus on that. As the leader, we just have to react appropriately and figure out what we need to do.”
Griner missed her first two shots, and put Baylor up 13-8 when she finally scored on a layup 6½ minutes into the game. That started a 2-minute span when the 6-foot-8 All-American scored 10 points, extending the lead to 23-13.
She then made 11 consecutive field goals before missing a short hook shot with just under 10 minutes left in the game. By that time Baylor led 69-33, and Griner was out of the game for good on the next timeout.
“Just getting in my groove,” Griner said of her quick turnaround. “The guards did a great job getting me the ball and helping me get into my groove.”
It was 25-15 when Goss made a layup for Kentucky with 7:52 left in the half. The Wildcats then went more than 5 minutes without scoring until Goss made a 3-pointer.
In the meantime, Baylor scored 17 points in a row. Sims had 10 of those points, including a pair of three-point plays, the later with 3:04 left that stretched the lead to 42-15.
“Having an opportunity to play on this kind of stage really opened our eyes and really got us focused. And to come out here and take a loss like we did, the way we react is something that only we can control,” Goss said. “The feeling I feel now I don’t want to feel again. So it’s just going to make me work harder.”
Kentucky wasn’t able to go fully with its tenacious defense – a pressure, trapping, and often in-your-face attack. The Wildcats still forced 22 turnovers, but managed only 12 points off those miscues.
That wasn’t nearly enough to beat the Lady Bears, who have also won 42 games in a row at home. That is tied with Miami (Fla.), for the second longest active home winning streak behind Stanford’s 80 in a row.
Sims, Griner and Williams were already in double-figure scoring by halftime. Brooklyn Pope finished with 10 points.
Griner had her 82nd consecutive double-figure scoring game while playing 29 minutes, when she also had five blocked shots and three steals. Her Big 12-record 606 career blocked shots are 57 behind the NCAA mark.
Kentucky plays its next four games at home before its Dec. 2 instate showdown at eighth-ranked Louisville.
“I don’t think we got any less talented tonight. We have some talent. And as coaches, we’ll put our heads together and figure out what we need to do. We have a long way to go,” Mitchell said. “I think it’s OK to be disappointed, I think it’s unacceptable to be discouraged. We’ll move forward from it.”