It was too much to expect a repeat or even anything close to the four-overtime epic that Kentucky and Baylor played in Dallas in early December. Instead, Saturday's regional semifinal in South Bend, Ind., was the Lady Bears' from the outset. Baylor executed and maintained a level of intensity over 40 minutes, trailing only briefly (5-4) before finishing a dominant 90-72 win to earn the program's fourth Elite Eight in five years. A look at how the game was won.
KEY STAT: All season, there has been "good Kentucky" and "bad Kentucky." Lately, the Wildcats were nothing but good. Saturday, the enigmatic and inconsistent version returned at the most inopportune time.
Poor shot selection, a lack of patience, a stagnant offense and some unforced turnovers contributed to Kentucky's slow start, but an inability to compete with Baylor on the glass was the Wildcats' biggest problem from the opening tip. The game wasn't even six minutes old and the Lady Bears held a 14-2 rebounding edge. With DeNesha Stallworth and Samarie Walker, inside play was expected to be an advantage for the Wildcats, but Baylor was far more aggressive. Baylor took a 14-7 lead despite Odyssey Sims missing her first six shots. Sune Agbuke, Baylor's 6-foot-4 junior, established herself inside against Kentucky's bigs right away, netting 4 points, 3 rebounds and 1 assist in the first three minutes.
KEY STAT II: Kentucky gave up its most points in a half this season in the first 20 minutes as Baylor took a 49-32 edge into the locker room (the Lady Bears scored 44 first-half points in that aforementioned December meeting). The pick-and-roll that gave the Wildcats so much trouble in Dallas was nearly as problematic Saturday in South Bend. Baylor shot 50 percent from the field in the first half and 48 percent for the game (32 of 67). The Lady Bears seemingly got whatever they wanted offensively. Vintage Kentucky defense makes the opponent uncomfortable. Baylor was almost never uncomfortable Saturday.
KEY STAT III: In the December meeting, Kentucky's Jennifer O'Neill scored 42 points off the bench. On Saturday, she missed all 12 of her field goal attempts and scored just eight points.
TURNING POINT: Despite the slow start, the Wildcats pulled within 32-28 after two O'Neill free throws with 4:43 remaining in the first half. As it turned out, however, Kentucky was in the throes of a significant field goal drought. The Wildcats went more than six minutes without a bucket, a stretch that ended only with eight seconds remaining in the first half. During the Kentucky dry spell, Baylor scored 12 straight points and eventually extended the run to 17-2 for a 19-point lead. The Wildcats never mounted a serious threat after that.
KEY PLAYER: Sims, who else? The national player of the year candidate did have help and did get out of the gate slowly, but, after missing those first six shots, she was dynamic. She connected on seven of her next nine shots and finished 11-of-23 for 25 points, with 7 assists, 3 steals and just 1 turnover. Baylor scored five baskets in that key 12-0 run. Sims scored four of them and assisted on the other. She was able to dominate the flow of the game, whether handling the ball or drawing attention away from it. Sims even managed to maintain her level of play in the second half without fouling. The only major concern for Baylor in the first half was foul trouble -- Sims missed the final minute and a half after picking up her third. She never committed another one.
KEY PLAYER II: Khadijiah Cave. The freshman averaged 5.3 points in the regular season. Saturday, she put up a career-high 18 to go with nine rebounds. Cave's performance was as important as it was surprising. Nina Davis, who finished with 20 points and eight rebounds, and Agbuke each missed time in the first half with foul trouble. Cave filled the void and played the best game of her career.
HOW IT WAS WON: Pick an area of the game and Baylor was better. The Lady Bears' rebounding differential did shrink to 47-39 by game's end, but the damage was done early. Baylor held Kentucky to 35 percent shooting and just 10 assists. This was a game of one team being in sync from the outset and the other never finding its way.
WHAT'S NEXT: This Baylor team, with only one starter back from a squad that lost only two games in two years, has advanced further in the tournament than the Brittney Griner-led edition of last season. To get to the Final Four, the Lady Bears might well have to pull an upset nearly as big as Louisville's stunner over Baylor a year ago. If Notre Dame gets through Oklahoma State as expected, Baylor's task will be beating the unbeaten Irish on their home floor in Monday's regional final.