Kristy Wallace leads way for Baylor on emotional night

WACO, Texas -- It was a game of green-and-gold domination over the burnt-orange neighbors to the south. Led by a scrappy guard -- who plays with her huge heart on her sleeve -- having a career game. Would anyone have loved all that more than former Baylor guard Chameka Scott?

On a night that honored Scott, who died Sunday at age 33 from cancer, the current Lady Bears paid her quite a tribute in front of a Ferrell Center crowd of 9,286. That included Scott's mother, brother and other family members, plus several of her former teammates from the 2005 national championship squad.

No. 3 Baylor controlled things start to finish over No. 6 Texas, 81-56, and served notice it's still boss of the Big 12.

Kristy Wallace, the gung-ho senior who brings so much energy to the Lady Bears and their fans, scored a career-high 27 points, plus had seven rebounds and four assists.

"It's Australia Day," Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said of the national holiday in Wallace's homeland that is Friday (which was Thursday night in the United States). "So the Aussie did good.

"She can score, but she's just been a great distributor for our team. Tonight, she had some openings, and she felt it. She did what she's capable of doing night in and night out; she just doesn't have to do it all the time."

That's because Baylor's formidable post duo put on its own show. Junior Kalani Brown (17 points, 11 rebounds) and sophomore Lauren Cox (17 points, 10 rebounds, six blocked shots, four assists) overpowered Texas, as did the Lady Bears' team defense.

They held the Longhorns to 31.3 shooting from the field (20 of 64), limiting Texas' inside looks. Starting guards Brooke McCarty (team-high 16 points), Ariel Atkins, and LaShann Higgs were a combined 13 of 41. Baylor outrebounded Texas 50-34 and allowed just five second-chance points. Texas beat Baylor 85-79 in Waco last season, and then had a close 70-67 loss to the Lady Bears in Austin. But Thursday was all Baylor.

"A bit of an old-fashioned butt-kicking, to be honest with you," Texas coach Karen Aston said. "I thought Baylor came out with the kind of energy that I expected. [I'm] a lot surprised by our team's lack of composure and competitiveness, in the first quarter in particular.

"We let our offensive woes really dictate what we did on the defensive end. I thought very early Kristy was really aggressive. We talked about her in transition in preparation, but I didn't think we were attentive to detail early in the game. You could tell it was a plan of theirs to push the ball, and we didn't do a good job stopping it. She got rolling, and she had a great night."

During the NCAA Division I women's basketball committee's first reveal last week of the top 16 teams, Baylor landed at No. 9 on that list. That was much lower than many expected, and a position believed to be based on Baylor's strength of schedule. But that will improve, as Thursday's game against Texas was the Lady Bears' first against the other teams currently ranked in the Big 12.

When it was suggested to Mulkey that a decisive victory like Thursday's might send a little message to the committee, she shrugged that off.

"I'm good with it," Mulkey said of the projected No. 3 seed. "Those 1-seeds have gotten us stuck at the Elite Eight level. So, hell, give us a 2 or 3, I don't care."

Baylor has won or tied for the Big 12 regular-season title the past seven years and taken six of the past seven league tournament crowns. But the NCAA tournament has been a frustrating venture for the Lady Bears since their perfect 40-0 national championship season of 2012. They were upset by Louisville in the 2013 Sweet 16, then lost in the Elite Eight the past four years to Notre Dame (twice), Oregon State and Mississippi State.

Baylor has been a No. 1 seed five of the past seven years, the exceptions being No. 2 in 2014 and '15. The last time the Lady Bears were below No. 2 was in 2010, Brittney Griner's freshman season, when they advanced to the Final Four as a No. 4 seed.

Baylor won its first NCAA title in 2005 as a No. 2 seed, and Scott was a junior starter on that team, the glue player that everyone gravitated around. Among her teammates then who were present Thursday were Chelsea Whitaker, Jordan Davis, Abiola Wabara and Sophia Young.

"She was just an amazing person. So much of who she was had nothing to do with basketball. She pushed all of us to live life to the fullest." Chelsea Whitaker on Chameka Scott

"I used to get mad at her all the time when I'd get a deflection, and she'd get credit for the steal," joked Scott's backcourt mate Whitaker, who with Davis and Wabara were at their former teammate's side when she died. "Whenever our team was down, we could count on her to spark us.

"She was just an amazing person. So much of who she was had nothing to do with basketball. She pushed all of us to live life to the fullest. My memories of being with her at the end ... she was so tender and gentle, and I know if the situation were reversed, she would have been right there for me. I miss her dearly. I've never been here [at the Ferrell Center] without her."

Yet Scott's spirit definitely was present, and the way Baylor played was representative of her, too. Mulkey, whose daughter, Makenzie, lost her baby in November, acknowledged it has been a challenging past few months for her. But she is proud of the bond that players of Scott's generation of Lady Bears still share, and how her current group is competing and supporting each other.

"You can coach for a lifetime, and not enjoy your kids," Mulkey said. "But when you enjoy being around them, and they say funny things, and they lift your spirit, and they cry with you, you know you've got a special group."

She was talking about the 2017-18 team, but she also could have been speaking of 2004-05. On this night, the auras of both teams filled the Ferrell Center, the past and the present brought together for a victory that Scott would have celebrated with gusto.

"I can just see that smile and her [waving] at the crowd," Mulkey said. "Because she was a magnet. People just looked at her and felt good about themselves."