A repeat worth watching: Who could have possibly guessed that just 3½ months after playing what might have been the greatest women's basketball game, Kentucky and Baylor would be doing it all over again? That Dec. 6 meeting at the massive home of the Dallas Cowboys just kept getting better as it went along. And it did go on and on. Four overtimes later, Kentucky prevailed 133-130 in the highest-scoring game in Division I women's college basketball history. All the buildup to Saturday's regional semifinal rematch will rightly reference this early-season offensive slugfest between the Lady Bears and Wildcats.
Baylor's Odyssey Sims scored 47 points in 41 minutes and undoubtedly would have produced plenty more had she not fouled out in the first overtime. It was her statement game, announcing to the world that the Brittney Griner era at Baylor was officially over and this was now her team.
To ask for another epic is asking too much. Kentucky, in particular, cannot expect another 43-point performance from Jennifer O'Neill off the bench. However, that Friday night in Dallas illustrated how evenly matched these teams are. With the stakes much higher in this one, the intensity level should rise higher even if the point total doesn't.
That game tape has been dissected and then re-examined. The winner Saturday will likely be the team that learned the most from playing those 60 minutes.
Containing Odyssey: After that game in December, a relieved Matthew Mitchell acknowledged that his team had no answer for Sims. Kentucky's best defense that night was Sims' fifth foul.
Baylor's high pick-and-roll game allowed Sims to get free for drives into the lane all night. She was amazingly efficient in her massive point production, scoring 23 points on 9-of-12 shooting in 18 possessions in which the Lady Bears used Sims in the pick-and-roll. In all, those 47 points came on 33 shots, just four 3-point attempts, and a steady 12-of-15 from the foul line.
Saturday's game will largely come down to how Kentucky defends that very play because, while Lady Bears coach Kim Mulkey will run some nuanced looks off the high ball-screen action, Baylor's attack remains built around Sims' ability to use the screen to get into the lane or free for a jump shot.
Mitchell has changed his overall defensive approach as this season has worn on. The Wildcats aren't necessarily the gambling, full-court pressure club they were in December and have been for a few years. A more conservative approach that better fits their personnel has helped Kentucky limit its two NCAA tournament foes, Wright State and Syracuse, to 22 percent and 33 percent shooting, respectively. That defensive improvement is a big reason why the Wildcats enter this game having won seven of their past eight, the only loss coming by one point to Tennessee in the SEC championship game.
In O'Neill, Bria Goss, Kastine Evans, Janee Thompson and Linnae Harper, the Wildcats have plenty of guards to run at Sims, who is just four points away from becoming the second player in women's NCAA Division I history to score 1,000 points in a season, joining Southwest Missouri State legend Jackie Stiles.