WACO, Texas (AP) — The green and gold confetti still flies at Baylor, even without former stars Brittney Griner and Odyssey Sims.
The No. 3 Lady Bears finished off their fifth straight Big 12 regular-season championship with a new cast, led for this celebration at least by Khadijiah Cave’s career-high 23 points in a 91-75 win over TCU on Saturday night.
The Lady Bears (26-1, 15-0), who had already clinched a share of the conference title, are three wins from a third unbeaten league record in four seasons. They have won 25 straight overall and 18 in a row at home.
All this in the first season without the combination of Griner and fellow All-America and point guard Sims, who played last season without the 6-foot-8 shot-blocking and dunking phenom. That was the only one of the five straight crowns Baylor had to share after a late-season loss to co-champ West Virginia.
“I don’t have a magic potion,” said coach Kim Mulkey, who has a Big 12-record six regular-season titles, four straight conference tournament crowns, two national championships as a coach and two more as a player. “I just know we’re pretty good. We have a lot of weapons. We have a lot of depth, and we don’t have just one superstar.”
It’s far from the earliest Baylor has wrapped up the league crown. The Lady Bears, who lead Oklahoma by four games, won the Big 12 by a whopping seven games in 2012. That was the first Division I team to go 40-0 in winning Baylor’s second national championship.
Chelsea Prince scored 16 points to lead TCU (15-11, 7-8).
Mulkey tried to make sure fans knew what was at stake early, pumping them up when she first appeared during the pre-game and cheering wildly after several first-half baskets, even though the Lady Bears led for good after a bucket by Kristina Higgins less than 4 minutes into the game.
The fourth-longest winning streak in school history is led by a new batch of stars, starting with Big 12 scoring leader Nina Davis, who had 15 points. Former Sims understudy Niya Johnson, another All-America candidate who leads the nation in assists, had 13 of those without a turnover and added a team-high eight rebounds.
But Cave, Davis’ fellow sophomore and frontcourt mate, was front and center on this night of celebration for Baylor. She was 10 of 13 from the field in topping her previous career high of 21 against TCU last month.
“This is just one piece to the puzzle,” Cave said. “We’ve got a lot left to do. We’re going to celebrate today and go back to practice and move on and keep adding pieces to the puzzle.”
TCU was within seven early in the second half when Imani Wright, who scored 14 points, hit one of her four 3-pointers and Davis and Johnson combined for the next 10 Baylor points on a 14-5 run that pushed the lead to 59-43.
“I think their 3-point shooting was the difference for them in this game,” first-year TCU coach Raegan Pebley said. “That helped them open up the paint a little more for them because we had to come out and contest a little harder.”
Mulkey will attend a game at Louisiana Tech on Sunday for the first time since she left as an assistant to take the Baylor job in 2000. Her alma mater is honoring the team that reached the regional finals in 1992-93, when she was an assistant coach. She won her national titles as a feisty point guard there.
She left for Baylor after she couldn’t agree with former president Dan Reneau on a coaching contract. Reneau retired last year, and Leon Barmore asked her to make the trip. She played and coached under Barmore and had him on her staff at Baylor for a few years. “I spent 19 years of my life there,” Mulkey said. “I didn’t leave but for one reason.”
TCU: Pebley tried a little inspiration with her players, figuring Baylor was anticipating another Big 12 celebration. She showed them footage of Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals when officials started preparing for a San Antonio celebration in the final seconds before Miami rallied to win the game and ultimately the series in seven games. “I’m just really a believer in visuals,” Pebley said.
Baylor: Students held up three signs reading “One” and “True” and “Champ,” a reference to Baylor being declared co-champion with TCU in football even though the conference had a slogan of “One True Champion” and the Bears beat the Horned Frogs. Both teams were left out of the four-team College Football Playoff.
TCU: Host West Virginia on Tuesday.
Baylor: At Oklahoma on Wednesday.