WACO, Texas (AP) — NaLyssa Smith had 25 points and 15 rebounds and was one of five players scoring in double figures for No. 4 Baylor as the Lady Bears opened the season with an 82-37 win over Central Arkansas on Wednesday night.
Caitlin Bickle also had a double-double her first career start for Baylor with 14 points and 11 rebounds. DiJonai Carrington, the former All-Pac-12 guard from Stanford and preseason Big 12 newcomer of the year, had 11 points in her Baylor debut, while 6-foot-5 freshman center Hannah Gusters had 13 points.
Smith, the preseason Big 12 player of the year, was only 1-of-10 shooting in the first half and finished 6-of-22 overall. But she also had four blocked shots and a couple of assists.
“At first I kind of got in my head about not scoring offensively, but then coach told me to do different things like rebound, pass the ball and just do things that I do naturally,” Smith said. “So I feel that once I got into the groove of things, it was easy to come out of that.”
The Lady Bears began their 21st season under coach Kim Mulkey, and are technically still the reigning national champions since there was no NCAA Tournament last season because of COVID-19 after they won their third national title in 2019.
Moon Ursin finished with 10 points a month after being involved in a vicious mid-air collision with teammate DiDi Richards in practice. Ursin completed concussion protocol while Richards, the versatile senior who had been expected to be the starting point guard, is still recovering from a spinal nerve injury. It is still unclear when Richards will be able to play, but she was on the bench energetically supporting her teammates.
“I don’t have to tell her anything about energy. It just comes natural. DiDi coaches from the bench,. … She stays involved in the game,” Mulkey said. “Didi is just constantly saying something, doing something to help her team, although she’s not out there physically yet.”
Jalisa Outlaw was the leader scorer for Central Arkansas with nine points, though she was 1-of-7 shooting, making a 3-pointer and going 6-of-6 at the free throw line. UCA shot only 19.7% (13 of 66).
“We’re excited just to be able to play the game again. Now Baylor wouldn’t have been my first game if I had a choice,” UCA coach Sandra Rushing said with a chuckle. “But playing on the big stage was really good for our players.”
Queen Egbo, the junior 6-foot-3 center for Baylor, didn’t play in the game, and Mulkey said little to explain why.
“Yeah, there’s a reason. And she knows what it is, and I’ll leave it at that,” Mulkey said after the game.
Central Arkansas: After scoring the game’s first basket only 44 seconds into the game, UCA kept that 2-0 lead until Smith’s two free throws with 6:36 left that started a 13-0 run. UCA got out-rebounded 60-37 and outscored in the paint 50-16.
“They’re bigger, the faster, stronger. I said that I want us to go in and play hard and compete, and we have nothing to lose,” Rushing said. “I was really pleased with how we played. We got tired. I mean, they just ran us up and down the floor.”
Baylor: The Lady Bears were 28-2 last season, but lost their regular-season finale before they played their Big 12 tournament opener and before the NCAA Tournament was canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic. They won their 10th Big 12 regular-season title in a row and are favored again this season even after losing AP All-America post Lauren Cox and fellow double figure-scoring seniors Te’a Cooper and Juicy Landrum.
Central Arkansas goes about 100 miles north to play TCU on Saturday.
Baylor was supposed to play Northwestern State at home on Friday, but that game was rescheduled until Dec. 18 because of COVID-19 concerns after Northwestern’s scheduled opener Wednesday was canceled. The Lady Bears play at South Florida next Tuesday.
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