Back in December, Baylor and Kentucky played an instant classic four overtime game in Arlington, TX that the Wildcats ultimately won 133-130. Looking back on that game now, what can we learn from it and what might go differently?
Kentucky’s 133-130 quadruple overtime win against Baylor in Texas was probably one of the better games of the season – maybe not the best game of the season because neither team shot well and it was something of a foul fest, but definitely one of the more attention-grabbing affairs of the season.
With a game like that, there were obviously some unique circumstances, not the least of which that it’s generally safe to assume that a team doesn’t stay the same from December to March. So what can we take from the game for each team?
What went well: Perhaps you don’t really want to focus too much on fouls and free throws in a game, but the disparity was so significant that it can’t be ignored here: Kentucky’s 20 attempt free throw differential was undoubtedly the most significant factor in this game. Staying aggressive won’t be something that any Kentucky team struggles with and it certainly wouldn’t be shocking to see them get to the line often again, if not quite that often; more surprising would be if they can defend without putting their opponent on the line very often.
What’s likely to change: Jennifer O’Neill is one of the most explosive guards in the nation and she absolutely went off on Baylor, scoring a team season-high 43 points in that 4OT affair as well as a team season-high 13 free throw attempts. As a scorer, she was way more involved than normal: her 35% usage rate from that game is about 10% more than normal; as a distributor, she was way more efficient than normal with a pure point rating of 6.52, which is much better than her normal -1.71. It’s very unlikely that she’ll be as good as she was the first time around and that means her teammates will have to step up.
Key player: Samarie Walker can be a very inconsistent player offensively, but Kentucky is going to need more out of her than what they got the first time around: her 10% usage rate – four shots in 23 minutes of player before fouling out – essentially made her a non-factor. Obviously, her rebounding presence would’ve really helped against a team that ranks 11th in the nation in rebounding percentage; if she can avoid fouling out – something she only did twice this season – Kentucky could make an even stronger showing this time around.
Key question: Who will pick up the scoring slack if O’Neill doesn’t go off again? The weird thing for Kentucky is that most of their team made approximately normal contributions except for O’Neill going bananas and Walker going silent. Let’s say both of those players return to average performance this time around: who then will step up to push the team over the edge?
What went well: Baylor really crushed Kentucky on the offensive boards the first time around, with a 43.08% to 32.20% advantage (+11%). What really stands out about that numbers is that neither DeNesha Stallworth nor Samarie Walker rebounded well defensively in that game, despite facing a considerably less experience Baylor front line. On the one hand, it would be reasonable to assume that Baylor won’t have such a comfortable advantage again; on the other, that’s not at all an anomaly for Baylor – they’ve dominated the boards by about that margin all season.
What’s likely to change: Odyssey Sims fouled out just one time this season; it happened to be in this four overtime game against Kentucky when she was one of seven players to foul out for the Lady Bears. And interestingly enough, it was one of her more efficient scoring games of the season as 15 free throw attempts of her own complemented her 17-for-33 shooting to give her a true shooting percentage of nearly 60%. On the other hand, she had eight turnovers to go with six assists.
Neither of those numbers above is actually the norm for Sims: against conference opponents (closer to the strength of Kentucky than their non-conference schedule), she wasn’t quite that efficient a scorer and definitely wasn’t that inefficient a distributor. There’s little question that Baylor will get a different type of game from her, which begins with her being available for the duration.
Key player: Niya Johnson was outstanding as a distributor in the first game, recording 11 assists to six turnovers – as anyone who has watched Kentucky might know, having an efficient ball handler is a key to beating them. That was one of Johnson’s better games this season so even if she doesn’t repeat that performance, she’ll still be someone to watch: she too fouled out of that game in just 35 minutes.
Key question: What does this game look like if Johnson and Sims don’t foul out? It might be safe to say that the likelihood of both Johnson and Sims fouling out of this game is extremely slim: it was the only time either of them was disqualified all season. And against UK, that ball handling presence is huge.
With both of them in the game – even if they both post performances near their season averages – Baylor should find themselves in a much better position to win. That first game was just so much more abnormal for them than Kentucky’s performance was compared to their season – again, seven Lady Bears players fouled out – that it’s hard to imagine that three point margin holding for Kentucky.