WKU women fall in NCAA opener, 87-74 at Baylor

STEPHEN HAWKINS AP Basketball Writer Published:

WACO, Texas (AP) -- Western Kentucky could become a regular again in the NCAA tournament.

The Lady Toppers just couldn't overcome two 30-point scorers and playing on the court of perennial national power Baylor in their first tourney game in six years.

Nina Davis made her NCAA tournament debut with 32 points and 10 rebounds while senior standout Sims scored 31 points to lead Baylor, without suspended coach Kim Mulkey, to an 87-74 first-round victory over WKU on Saturday night.

"We weren't intimated by them at all. We knew they were a good team, but we were prepared for everything they threw at us," said Kendall Noble, the Sun Belt Conference's top freshman this season. "We just fell up a little short."

Western Kentucky (24-9) led only once -- for 16 seconds in the first half before Davis and Sims combined for all the Baylor points in a 14-4 run. Davis already had 24 points by halftime, and Sims had 15.

But the No. 15 seed Lady Toppers were within five points as late as 6½ minutes to go in the game.

"We gave them the game plan and how we needed to prepare. The biggest thing is those players really believed in the staff, and we just talk to them," coach Michelle Clark-Heard said. "We play four-minute segments, four-minute games. Every time they came to the huddle we told them what the score was, and if we outscored them or if we were down, what we needed to do. That's how we tried to make sure we broke everything down in the beginning. And we didn't try to give them too much."

The Sun Belt tournament champ Lady Toppers were in the NCAA tournament for the 17th time, but their first since 2008. They have been to three Final Fours.

They were 9-21 two years ago, but have now had 22 and 24 wins in their two seasons under Clark-Heard, who was in four NCAA tourneys as a WKU player.

Chastity Gooch, a junior, had 23 points for the Lady Toppers, while Noble had 21. Bianca McGee had 18 points that included four 3s.

Mulkey will be back Monday night when the No. 2 seed Lady Bears (30-4) stay home to play No. 7 seed California (22-9). Both teams are trying to get back to the Sweet Sixteen.

It was the first pair of teammates with 30-point games in the NCAA women's tournament since Gonzaga in 2011, according to STATS.

Mulkey served a one-game suspension for criticizing the officiating after the then-defending national champion Lady Bears' upset loss to Louisville in a very physical Sweet Sixteen game last March. Associate head coach Bill Brock filled in and is now 2-0 in his career when he's had to coach in Mulkey's place -- he also did when Mulkey was ill during a regular-season game 10 years ago.

"It was different not seeing her face on the sideline, hearing her voice screaming and hollering at us," said Davis, getting a chuckle from those around the Big 12's top freshman.

Brock got a loud standing ovation when he walked out on the court a few minutes before the game. And, the fans were still cheering when the game ended.

"When I walked out there and the fans started standing and clapping, that made me relax a little bit, to be honest with you," Brock said.

Mulkey also missed the 2009 NCAA opener after surgery to remove a kidney stone. Then-associate coach Leon Barmore was in charge for that game against as No. 15 seed, and the Lady Bears won in overtime against Texas-San Antonio.

This time, the Lady Bears had a double-digit lead for most of the final 5 minutes and clinched their fourth consecutive 30-win season. They have won first-round NCAA games 11 years in a row, with three of the last four at home.

Western Kentucky had its only lead after Gooch scored the first eight points in an 11-2 run. The Lady Toppers went ahead 28-27 on McGee's 3 with 6:43 left in the first half after Gooch had made a 3-pointer, a three-point play and a layup the previous 4 minutes.

But the Lady Bears responded with a 3-minute spurt led appropriately by Davis and Sims for a 41-32 lead that was their largest in the first half.