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Ionescu’s Court: Can the Lady Bears beat the Ducks in the Final Four?

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The Ducks take on the overall #1 seed in Tampa

NCAA Womens Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Portland Regional-Oregon vs South Dakota State Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Today at 4 PM PT on ESPN2, the overall #1 seed Baylor Lady Bears will take on the Fighting Ducks of Oregon for a chance to compete in the National Championship.

Do they have a shot? Ionescu’s Court is in session!

SEASON THUS FAR

RECORD: 35-1, 18-0

BEST WINS: @ Arizona State, South Dakota State, South Carolina (twice), Uconn, Iowa State (three times), Iowa

WORST LOSS: @ Stanford

COMMON OPPONENTS: Arizona State, South Dakota State, Stanford, California

LAST 5 GAMES:

  • W (3/11) BIG 12 Tournament, Iowa State, 67-49
  • W (3/23) NCAA Tournament, #16 seed Abilene Christian, 95-38
  • W (3/25) NCAA Tournament, #8 seed California, 102-63
  • W (3/30) NCAA Tournament, #4 seed South Carolina, 93-68
  • W (4/1) NCAA Tournament, #2 seed Iowa, 85-53
NCAA Womens Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Greensboro Regional - Baylor vs Iowa Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

SEASON RECAP

The Baylor Lady Bears didn’t need much time to warm up. They opened the season with two exhibition games resulting in a pair of 100-point victories (110-45 against Langston and 127-61 against Texas A&M-Commerce). The triple-digit lopsided scores continued into the regular season with a 100-39 win over Nicholls State and an 116-58 blowout of Saint Francis.

Baylor finally met a worthy opponent when they traveled to Tempe to face Arizona State. Down by 11 at the half, the Lady Bears were able to rally on the road to beat the Sun Devils by a score of 65 to 59 thanks to the play of NaLyssa Smith (16 points, 11 rebounds) and a solid fourth quarter.

The next week started with a 45-point victory over Southern before a trip to Vegas to play against South Dakota State and Georgetown. The Jackrabbits are the second shared opponent between the Ducks and Lady Bears, both teams were able to pull of the victory, or victories in Oregon’s case, but were heavily challenged. Baylor used a 28-point performance from Lauren Cox to beat South Dakota State 72-66, while the matchup against Georgetown proved less competitive.

The Lady Bears earned another impressive mark on their resume by beating South Carolina 94 to 69 in Columbia. A victory over outmatched Morehead State gave Baylor its eighth straight win, but the Stanford Cardinal were able to defend their home-court and hand the Lady Bears their first and only loss of the season. Oregon beat the Cardinal by 40 on that very same court but also lost to them 64-57 in the PAC-12 Tournament Championship game.

Down by 16 points going into the fourth, the Lady Bears’ late game rally against the Cardinal fell short, 68-63. Baylor bounced back by beginning their current 27-game win streak with a victory over UTRGV and then became giant slayers by defeating then-No. 1 Uconn in Waco by a score of 68 to 57. The Huskies were held to 29.4% from the floor and 34.4% from three-point land while the Lady Bears were able to win despite connecting on only three of their triples.

Baylor then began its terrifying run through conference play; the Lady Bears won each of their first seven games by at least 15 points, outscoring their opponents in this stretch 548 to 398. A win on the road over then-No. 20 Iowa State made the Lady Bears the nation’s top ranked team.

The Oklahoma State Cowgirls gave the Lady Bears a run for their money by building a two-point lead going into the fourth, but Baylor outscored them 20 to 10 in the final quarter. Then, Baylor proved it was the best school in Texas by beating Texas Tech, Texas and TCU to remain unbeaten in the BIG 12. Then-No. 14 Texas put up the best fight, but even in Austin the Lady Bears were able to hold on for the 74-68 in-state victory.

Kansas State, Oklahoma and Kansas hardly put up a fight, and even Iowa State and Texas failed to keep the game competitive the second go-around. West Virginia would be the last team to keep Baylor within a ten-point striking distance. Baylor almost suffered a major upset against the Mountaineers in the final game of the regular season, but were able to maintain their six-point lead throughout the fourth quarter to preserve their perfect conference season.

The BIG 12 Women’s Basketball Championship didn’t seem to challenge Baylor either. The Lady Bears met No, 9 seed Texas Tech in the quarterfinals after a day of rest, ultimately beating them 100 to 61. Kansas State fared slightly better but still fell to Baylor 88-60 and in the Championship game Baylor beat Iowa State for the third time this season. The 67-49 victory over the Cyclones earned the Lady Bears the top overall seed in the Big Dance.

Baylor has breezed past their competition in the NCAA Tournament despite playing against some of the best teams in the country. No. 16 seed Abilene Christian couldn’t find the UMBC magic and made a quick exit after losing 95-38. Then, the Lady Bears beat the No. 8 seed Golden Bears by nearly forty points (this is Baylor and Oregon’s fourth shared opponent, Oregon beat Cal 105-82).

No. 4 seed South Carolina got another crack at Baylor, this time in the Elite Eight, but again lost by 25 points. The Gamecocks’ offense was smothered by the Lady Bears’ size as they finished with a measly 33.3% from the floor. Then, against Megan Gustafson (the Nation’s top scorer with 27.8 PPG) and the Iowa Hawkeyes, Baylor was again able to limit their opponents offensive success (32.1 FG%, 3-of-10 3PT shooting) while finding a way to win despite hitting just one three-pointer.

And now they face the Ducks, arguably their toughest opponent of the season, in the Final Four. Will it be another Championship game for the Lady Bears or another program first for the Ducks?


STAT COMPARISON

  • LADY BEARS score 81.9 PPG
  • DUCKS allow 62.7
  • LADY BEARS shoot .503% from the floor
  • DUCKS allow .395%
  • LADY BEARS shoot .378% from three
  • DUCKS allow .308%
  • LADY BEARS average 47.6 rebounds
  • DUCKS allow 30.5
  • LADY BEARS allow 54.6 PPG
  • DUCKS score 85.4
  • LADY BEARS allow .314% from the floor
  • DUCKS shoot .505%
  • LADY BEARS allow .296% from three
  • DUCKS shoot .417%
  • LADY BEARS allow 29.7 rebounds
  • DUCKS average 37.9
  • LADY BEARS average 22.5 assists/ 13.0 turnovers

BAYLOR STARTERS

#21 Kalani Brown

NCAA Womens Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Greensboro Regional - Baylor vs Iowa Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

6’7, Center, Senior

(.609 FG% - .000 3PT% - .797 FT% - 15.5 PPG - 8.1 REB)

At 6-foot-7, Kalani Brown is once again leading her team in scoring by dominating the post, Her athleticism is elite and her size makes her incredibly difficult to deal with on both sides of the ball. Accompanied by 6-foot-4 Lauren Cox and a trio of talented guards, Brown has both the physical tools and supporting cast to win a National Championship, but first they’ll have to get past the high-flying Oregon Ducks.


#20 Juicy Landrum`

NCAA Womens Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Greensboro Regional - Baylor vs South Carolina Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

5’8, Guard, Junior

(.432 FG% - .401 3PT% - .764 FT% - 11.3 PPG - 5.0 REB)

Juicy Landrum has become the team’s go-to triple shooter, hitting 61 of her 152 attempts from downtown. If Oregon has a shot at beating the Lady Bears it will be by building separation through the three-point game, so a few well-placed shots from Landrum could make a world of difference for Baylor,


#24 Chloe Jackson

NCAA Womens Basketball: Big 12 Conference Tournament - Kansas State vs Baylor Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

5’8, Guard, Graduate

(.476 FG% - .200 3PT% - .739 FT% - 11.4 PPG - 3.7 REB)

After dominating at LSU where she averaged 18.1 points per game, Jackson’s veteran presence has helped make this team elite. In her 36 games as a Lady Bear she’s averaged a team-high 5.3 assists and has chipped in on defense, establishing herself as a crucial player.


#15 Lauren Cox

NCAA Womens Basketball: Big 12 Conference Tournament - Iowa State vs Baylor Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

6’4, Forward, Junior

(.517 FG% - .313 3PT% - .730 FT% - 12.9 PPG - 8.3 REB)

Lauren Cox has been one of the best players in the BIG 12 and Baylor’s second leading scorer. She also leads the Lady Bears in rebounding with 8.3 per game and has shown up big throughout the season, tallying nine double-doubles and scoring double digits in every conference and NCAA Tournament game.


#2 DiDi Richards

NCAA Womens Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Greensboro Regional - Baylor vs Iowa Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

6’1, Guard, Sophomore

(.517 FG% - .000 3PT% - .547 FT% - 7.0 PPG - 3.9 REB)

Last year as a freshman, Richards made an impression with her steals and blocks. Now that she’s a starter, the talented guard has become the glue for this team and is heating up at the perfect time, averaging more than four assists per game and playing different roles as needed - like when she scored 25 against South Carolina or grabbed 10 rebounds against Iowa.


PANIC LEVEL

0 out of 18 Triple-Doubles

Having made program history by reaching the Final Four, the Oregon Ducks will have a shot at the team many believe is the best in the country. The Ducks and Lady Bears play a different brand of ball but both have perfected it, and now that we’ve reached Tampa there’s nothing else to do but sit back and watch another amazing game of basketball.

Having just won the Wade Trophy as the rightfully recognized best player in NCAA basketball, Sabrina Ionescu will undoubtedly play a major role in this game. If one were to foolishly look ahead, a win over Baylor would have the Ducks facing either the legendary Uconn Huskies or the Notre Dame fighting Irish in a revenge game, but first things first.

Both teams have proven themselves against top competition, but I believe the Ducks will hand the Lady Bears their second loss of the season.

SCORE PREDICTION

DUCKS 78 - LADY BEARS 73