Bella White’s free throw routine looked the same almost every time she took a shot in the last minute of Baylor’s 56-43 win over host GPS. And when she shot the ball, it dropped through the net five of six times to keep a threatening GPS rally at bay. The guard who had made much of her previous impact as a decisive passer to scoring teammates turned into a cold-blooded assassin at the line when they needed her to put their rivals away.
“We have to have people like Bella who can make free throws at the end of games,” Baylor coach John Gibson said.
“When you can rely on them to make their free throws, you’re going to win some close games at the end.”
The score was stuck at 1-1 for almost four minutes after each team drained one freebie to start the game. The quality of shots was not ideal, but much of the scoring drought was probably due to nerves. After Baylor’s Allison Royal hit a drifting layup away from a packed paint, the game began to open up.
GPS’ Kennedy Ball raced down court in transition, made a hard jump-stop at the free throw line, and canned the midrange jumper in front of the delirious home section. Bailee Stack then answered with a layup, and McKamey Bratcher came back with another lay-in off the baseball pass from Ball to make what had been a sleepy game a bonafide shootout.
The second quarter was a deluge of fouls, free throws, and the occasional bucket. Baylor took the 22-19 lead heading into halftime thanks to suffocating defense inside choking off the paint, and some timely baskets from players like White. She euro-stepped around the Bruiser defenders, slowed up to take the contact, and flipped in a layup plus the foul to give the Red Raiders a 13-11 lead early on.
Farah House was a presence in the paint whenever she had the ball and earned multiple trips to the free throw line with her dogged play in the post. Baylor used a quick-hitting transition game to generate many of their points but went into halftime with the lead after Riley Oleksik calmly let one fly from the left wing for three.
While GPS made the last few minutes interesting, it could be said that the Lady Red Raiders won the game in the third quarter. They outscored GPS 18-7 and shut their rivals out for the last five minutes. Because the Bruisers’ hard-playing guards and forwards were not the most accurate shooters, defenders like Holly Merritt and Kaylee Snyder simply sank into the paint as part of a compact 2-3 zone and collected turnover after turnover.
“We didn’t want to try to defend them (one-on-one) inside, because we wanted to stay out of foul trouble,” coach Gibson said.
The fourth quarter was an adventure. White started the quarter by whipping passes to cutting teammates for easy layups, and she dazzled the away crowd with a laser beam dime to Merritt after breaking ankles on a crossover. When Oleksik hit a Harden-esque stepback triple from the top of the arc, Baylor enjoyed a 47-26 lead a few minutes into the fourth quarter.
Although their comeback came up short, the Bruisers certainly made the Lady Red Raiders sweat and claw until the final buzzer. Ball hit a long two, and senior Abbie Reel two-stepped into the lane for a layup to give the team life. Then came a pair of treys from Bratcher and Caitlin Polk to cut the once-21 point lead to 13. After a few more minutes of missed shots and turnovers by Baylor, Reel made another layup to make it a 10-point game.
That’s when Bella White took over at the top of the floor and at the free throw line. She handled the ball with poise, keeping it away from eager GPS hands. And once the Bruisers were forced to foul, she made her shots and put away the tense 56-43 road win.
“In the fourth quarter, I felt like we let off a little bit,” coach Gibson said. “It’s a rivalry game, and when it gets frantic and we do that, that’s what happens.”
BAYLOR 10 12 18 16 – 56
GPS 09 10 07 17 – 43
BAYLOR (56) – Riley Oleksik 16, Stack 4, Bella White 14, Royal 2, Snyder 7, Brooksbank 2, Sanders 2, Merritt 7.
GPS (43) – McKamey Bratcher 11, Ball 9, Moody 2, Hubbard 2, Reel 6, Polk 7, House 6.
3-POINT GOALS: Baylor 4 (Oleksik 3, Snyder 1); GPS 2 (Bratcher 1, Polk 1).
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