By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider
LUBBOCK – When Kim Mulkey got her 600th career win on Baylor’s last trip to Lubbock a year ago, Texas Tech threw a scare into the Lady Bears in a game that was tied going into the fourth quarter.
This time, the only real scare came at the 4:53 mark of the third quarter when senior guard DiDi Richards took a hard fall and had to be helped off the floor with apparent concussion symptoms.
In control of the game pretty much from the tip, the seventh-ranked Lady Bears (15-2, 10-1) closed the first quarter on a 16-0 run and never looked back en route to an 82-50 blowout of Tech (9-11, 4-10) Wednesday night at United Supermarkets Arena.
“When you come out of the gates, and you’re playing and everybody’s confident like that on the defensive end and listening to the scouting report, it allows you to do some things,” said Mulkey, whose team won its seventh in a row and 25th-straight against Tech to stay a half-game ahead of No. 19/21 West Virginia (16-2, 10-2) in the Big 12 standings.
“The big thing from today, other than the win, was the opportunity to play a lot of people and rest kids because we’ve got a very tough stretch ahead of us.”
Richards, who suffered a nonstructural spinal cord injury in a preseason scrimmage on Oct. 24, took a hard fall in Wednesday’s game after tumbling over Texas Tech’s Vivian Gray and remained on the floor for several minutes. After sitting up, she was helped off the floor by trainer Alex Olson and then returned to the team bench in the fourth quarter.
“I didn’t have to go out on the floor for my heart to stop,” Mulkey said, “when I saw who it was and I saw how ugly it was. That was when I was like, ‘Not this kid again.’ I think everybody in the gym knows the history of what she’s been through. To see that same kind of neck/head type of injury, or something happens like that, everybody just gets extremely quiet.”
NaLyssa Smith, who recorded her 22nd career double-double and eighth in the last 10 games with 28 points and 13 rebounds, said it was a “big relief” when Richards returned to the bench.
“It was a big relief just seeing that she was OK,” said Smith, who was 12-of-22 from the floor in her highest scoring output in a road game. “Just seeing her smiling, walking regularly, it was a big relief.”
In the team huddle after the extended delay, Mulkey told the team that Richards was “all right.”
“I told them, ‘This is not the same injury, she’s moving, she’s coherent, she’s talking,” Mulkey said. “I said, ‘Now, we’ve got to go play ball. We’ve got to keep doing what we’ve done. You can’t start worrying about DiDi. DiDi will be back out here.’ Sure enough, she was back on the bench before the game was over.”
Before she left, Richards scored eight points and added six assists, three rebounds, a block and a steal in 22 minutes, helping the Lady Bears take a commanding 52-21 lead.
“It’s a scary feeling,” Smith said. “We all know what she went through, but we knew we had to stay focused. Coach kept encouraging us to stay focused and keep the lead. You just had to get your mind back right, and we just went out there and kept playing for her.”
Smith, who scored her 1,000th career point on her first bucket of the game, added four more points in a 10-0 run after Richards left the game. When Mulkey took the starters out with 49 seconds left in the third quarter and Baylor leading, 66-25, Smith was actually outscoring the Lady Raiders, 28-25.
Aggressive all night, Smith said she “just went out there today and just played. I just played regular basketball.” Asked if she felt like she could score every time she got the ball, Smith nodded her head and said, “Yeah, I did actually.”
DiJonai Carrington hit two first-quarter 3-pointers, including a back-breaker for Tech with seven seconds left, in helping Baylor take an 18-3 lead. Tech hit just one of 12 from the floor in the opening period and finished the game 0-for-13 from outside the arc.
“We take a lot of pride in our defense, period,” Mulkey said. “Whether it’s from 3 or wherever, it means a lot to us. I just thought we were very tuned in to what we were doing when the game started.”
Gray, who was fifth in the league in scoring with a 19.7 average coming into the game, was just 3-of-19 from the floor and Tech’s only double-figure scorer with 12 points. “We’ll take that every day,” Mulkey said.
Lexi Gordon, the Lady Raiders’ second-leading scorer, was 0-for-5 from the field and got her only points on six free throws. That’s where Tech scored nearly half of its points, hitting 22-of-26 from the line. Gordon and Gray were a combined 12-of-13.
“I think the one thing that we did badly tonight is we gave them 22 of their points from the foul line. They went there 26 times,” Mulkey said. “A lot of it is we put them on the foul line too early in the fourth quarter. But, I needed those people from our bench to play. They played the whole fourth quarter, and (Tech) had starters out there. That’s how they gain experience and get better.”
Tech scored just 27 points through the first three quarters and shot a dismal 28 percent overall from the floor (14-of-50). Baylor also dominated the boards, 48-27, scoring 21 second-chance points on 18 offensive rebounds.
“Every time we play, every time we practice, I see things that let me know we’re getting better,” Mulkey said. “We may not be as sharp sometimes as we were tonight, but we’re getting better.”
Baylor returns home for its next two games, hosting Texas (14-5, 8-4) at 4 p.m. Sunday and West Virginia at 7 p.m. next Wednesday. The Longhorns are coming off a 64-53 win over Oklahoma State, while West Virginia held off Kansas, 69-62, for its 10th-straight win.