March 16, 2009

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - With her knee mangled and just starting to heal, there was nothing Jhasmin Player could do but watch as Baylor struggled its way to a short-lived postseason a year ago.

When her team's leading scorer went out with the same injury, she certainly didn't want a repeat.

Player scored a season-high 25 points, Morghan Medlock came off the bench to add 15 and No. 7 Baylor beat Texas A&M (No. 9 ESPN/USA Today, No. 10 AP) on Sunday 72-63 to win the Big 12 championship.

"I had some sleepless nights when we lost here last year," Player said. "I packed for three days, and I wanted to be here three days."

Not only did the Bears stick around for the duration this time, they're going home as champions.

"I can't even put into words how it feels," Player said.

Despite losing leading scorer Danielle Wilson to a season-ending knee injury in the final week of the regular season, the Bears (27-5) found a new way to win and claimed their second Big 12 title. The other one came in Baylor's national championship season in 2005.

There were questions surrounding Baylor after leading scorer Danielle Wilson went down against Texas on Feb. 28 and the Bears suffered easily their worst loss of the season their next time out in a 69-45 rout at Kansas.

That brought back memories of last season, when the Bears started out 21-1 and then collapsed to a 4-6 finish after Player tore a ligament in her knee. Texas sent Baylor home in the first round of the Big 12 tournament, and then Pittsburgh upset the third-seeded Bears in the second round of the NCAAs.

But this year's Bears may have put all of that to rest with their third win of the season against the Aggies and their second in eight days.

"Danielle Wilson is good and a big loss for us but our scoring, our rebounding, it's distributed throughout the lineup," Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. "I think you now see we're not going away."

Player scored 19 of her points in the second half and led the way after Texas A&M chipped at a nine-point deficit to make it close.

After the Aggies got within 60-58 on Takia Starks' jumper with 4:46 remaining, Player followed Jessica Morrow's two free throws with a three-point play to keep A&M at bay. She then got wide open for a 3-pointer from the left wing that made it 68-60 with 2:47 left.

"I would say her game plan was, 'I'm going to drive to the basket. I'm either going to get fouled or I'm going to get the score.' She stuck to that," said Starks, who led A&M with 22 points.

"Sometimes we were able to keep her from the paint. Most of the time we weren't."

Player launched the ball off the bottom of the scoreboard hanging from the ceiling as players jumped into each others' arms to celebrate the championship. Wilson, who was averaging 15.1 points before she got hurt, gave Mulkey a big hug on the sidelines before walking toward a pile of Bears players on the floor.

With the win, Baylor may have locked up a No. 2 seed -- and perhaps picked up an outside chance for a No. 1 seed -- and the opportunity to come back to Oklahoma City for an NCAA tournament regional in two weeks.

"I don't know what's going to happen," Mulkey said. "All I know is, what more can we do? If we're the No. 1 RPI conference in America ... then why can't we have two No. 1 seeds? I don't understand why you can't. I have said that from Day 1. I certainly will be disappointed if another conference has two No. 1 seeds."

Tanisha Smith added 18 points and Danielle Gant fought through foul trouble to score 14 for the Aggies (25-7), who were seeking to repeat as Big 12 champions.

Morrow, the tournament's most outstanding player, added 12 points for the second-seeded Bears.

Baylor had given up 12 straight points and was trailing 17-7 when Mulkey put Medlock in the game and found an immediate spark.

Medlock scored 11 points in an 18-2 surge by the Bears, much of it coming while Gant was on the bench with two fouls, and Melissa Jones' 3-pointer from the right wing put Baylor up 25-19.

The Bears never trailed again.

"It feels good but it's not over," Player said. "We have six more games and we want to continue to work hard and we want to continue to win."