No. 2 Baylor women clinch share of 10th straight B12 title
By JOHN RABY AP Sports Writer
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — Baylor is accustomed to Big 12 regular season women’s championships.
For Te’a Cooper, it’s her first.
Cooper scored 17 points and No. 2 Baylor clinched a share of its 10th consecutive league regular-season title with a 64-39 victory over West Virginia on Monday night.
“Listen. Always remember this,” said Baylor coach Kim Mulkey. “Losing will put you in the grave, but winning never gets old.”
Cooper led South Carolina in scoring a year ago at 11.9 points per game before coming to Baylor as a graduate transfer. She has fit in nicely for the Lady Bears, emerging as their second-leading scorer. She scores nearly 14 points per game on a team that has five players averaging in double figures.
“She thinks her best opportunity to play at the next level is with the ball in her hands,” Mulkey said. “And I think that’s why she came. Of course she wants to win.”
For Baylor, the share of another title was business as usual.
The only sign of celebrating on the court was after the game. Lauren Cox and several teammates emerged from the lockerroom to sign a few autographs, pose for some pictures and share hugs with fans from both teams.
It’s the fourth regular-season title for Cox, a 6-foot-4 senior who finished with 12 points and nine rebounds.
“That’s one of the reasons why I came to Baylor, to win championships,” Cox said. “At this point it’s kind of expected and that’s how we work every day in practice.”
Baylor (26-1, 15-0 Big 12) cemented the top seed in the conference tournament and won its 56th straight regular-season conference game. That’s one short of sixth all-time in NCAA history as UConn won 57 in a row from 2008-12.
Baylor also won its 44th straight road game in the conference, the nation’s third-longest such streak in the regular season.
The Lady Bears can clinch the title outright with a win Saturday or with a loss by second-place TCU to Texas on Wednesday.
“I’ve always put more emphasis on the regular season than the conference tournament,” Mulkey said. “Anybody can get on a roll and win three or four games in the conference tournament. But when you do it for an entire regular season that means you’ve done something. We’re going to enjoy that long plane ride home.”
Defending national champion Baylor didn’t look as dominating as it did in a 40-point win over the Mountaineers on Jan. 18 in Waco, Texas. Baylor went ahead by double digits just before halftime and opened the third quarter on a 13-0 run to win comfortably.
“They come off the bench with talent,” said West Virginia coach Mike Carey. “They come off the bench with size. Their post scored a lot of points. Ours didn’t. We got by their guards, but their post is standing there blocking shots. Baylor has a great team.”
The teams combined to miss their first 14 shots of the game. Baylor emerged from the lull while West Virginia didn’t.
The Mountaineers managed just 19 first-half points and failed to hit a field goal over a 10-minute span of the second and third quarters.
West Virginia (16-10, 6-9) shot 24% from the floor for the game and lost to Baylor for the sixth straight time.
West Virginia leading scorer Kysre Gondrezick came off the bench to score 13 points after missing the last three games with an undisclosed injury.
Baylor: The Lady Bears’ average margin of victory in Big 12 play has been 26 points. Only twice have opponents finished within single digits.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers have gone 3-9 since peaking at No. 17 in the AP Top 25 poll last month. A marquee win would have gotten them off the NCAA Tournament bubble. West Virginia plays two of its final three regular-season games on the road.
Earlier Monday, Baylor watched the public memorial service for NBA superstar Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles. Mulkey and her players said it reinforced how their view their lives.
“My family comes first in all that I do,” Mulkey said. “The motivation would not be to come out here and just play good and hard. It’s more of you’re blessed and this could be taken away from you in an instant. Live your life and play the game as hard as you can and count your blessings.”
Cox echoed similar sentiments.
“You can’t take every day for granted,” Cox said. “You got to tell the people you love every day that you love them because you never know when your last day is going to be.”
West Virginia’s previous season low for production was 44 points at Texas on Feb. 17.
Baylor hosts Kansas State on Saturday. The Lady Bears beat the Wildcats 54-40 on Feb. 8 in Manhattan, Kansas.
West Virginia plays at Iowa State on Saturday. The Mountaineers took their earlier meeting 79-71.
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