It had been more than a month since Baylor had really been tested. The last time the Lady Bears won a game without completely blowing out the opposition was on March 4, when they won by six points at West Virginia. Since then, every game Kim Mulkey's side had won had been by double-digits.
Oregon tested Baylor. The Ducks threw everything they had and more at the Lady Bears. But Baylor survived.
After beating Oregon, 72-67, on Friday night in Tampa, Baylor is headed to the championship game for the first time since 2012.
Despite the focus on Baylor's superb post players, the star in the final moments of the game was Chloe Jackson. Jackson sprinted by a pack of defenders to hit a lay-up that gave Baylor the go-ahead bucket and a two-point lead and then eluded Oregon defenders trying to foul her on Baylor's next possession.
Jackson, a graduate transfer from LSU, steered the Lady Bears offense carefully and dished out six assists in 40 minutes of play while never turning the ball over.
Slow start for Sabrina
Sabrina Ionescu had a tough first quarter for Oregon, missing both of her field goal attempts and turning the ball over twice as Baylor’s DiDi Richards guarded her closely.
But the NCAA’s all-time record holder for triple-doubles got back on track in the second quarter, dropping 12 points. Near the end of the period, she drained a 3 from the top of the key as Richards fouled her. Ionescu connected on the free throw to give the Ducks a 34-33 lead at halftime.
we're looking at super saiyan sabrina in this tournament— Natalie Weiner (@natalieweiner) April 6, 2019
Ionescu finished the contest with 18 points, four rebounds and six assists on 6-of-24 shooting from the floor.
Ionescu shot 6-of-24 (25%) from the field, her third-worst field goal percentage in a game this season. Didi Richards and Juicy Landrum were her primary defenders as she went 5-of-20 against those two combined.— ESPN Women's Hoops (@ESPN_WomenHoop) April 6, 2019
NATIONAL STATS: Individual and team leaders in the 2018-19 season
Baylor’s bigs play crucial roles
While Oregon’s preferred method of scoring was typically from 3-point range — the Ducks attempted 32 shots from behind the arc — Baylor opted for an inside game powered by its two towering post players in 6-foot-4 Lauren Cox and 6-foot-7 Kalani Brown.
Cox carried the load for Baylor in the first quarter and tallied six points, three rebounds and three assists as the Lady Bears closed the first period on a 15-4 run. Brown picked things up in the second quarter and notched five points, three rebounds and a block.
In the third quarter, Brown and Cox either scored or assisted on Baylor’s first six baskets to help Baylor take a five-point lead. A put-back shot from Cox gave Baylor a one-point lead at the end of the quarter.
END of 3Q | Baylor 56-55— Tori McElhaney (@tori_mcelhaney) April 6, 2019
I'm not even surprised. pic.twitter.com/2zl88yxEMP
Cox and Brown both knocked down free throws in the final 19 seconds to seal the Baylor win.
Overall, Baylor outscored Oregon 48-20 in the paint and won the rebounding battle 38-33. The Lady Bears also blocked six shots.
Cox and Brown combined for a total of 43 points, 18 rebounds, nine assists, two steals and four blocks.
Oregon kept it interesting in the fourth quarter, but the Baylor combo of Kalani Brown and Lauren Cox was too much. Those two combined for 43 points and 18 boards. pic.twitter.com/4v8oNJRo0i— FiveThirtyEight (@FiveThirtyEight) April 6, 2019
Up next for Baylor is the winner of two teams who have a bevy of Final Four experience, Notre Dame and UConn.
Mitchell Northam is a graduate of Salisbury University. His work has been featured at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Orlando Sentinel, SB Nation, FanSided, USA Today and the Delmarva Daily Times. He grew up on Maryland's Eastern Shore and is now based in Durham, N.C.