Kentucky can't hang with No. 1 Baylor
Game was contrast of offenses: Baylor's was relentless, while Kentucky's was futile
You know those dreams in which you keep doing something potentially harmful to yourself, but you just can't stop?
For instance: You're driving even though you can't see the road. You're walking into a dark corridor even though you suspect some sort of monster lurks there. You're climbing out on a ledge even though you're terrified of falling.
The whole time, part of your brain is thinking, "Wake up! Stop! I don't want to do this!"
Eventually, you do wake up or the dream shifts away to something else less dire. But if you were the Kentucky women's basketball team on Tuesday, you were living out this scenario while wide awake.
Kentucky -- which has been to the Elite Eight twice in the last three years, is ranked No. 6 and picked to win the mighty SEC this season -- couldn't do much of anything with defending national champion Baylor.
The Lady Bears won 85-51 in a suspense-free snoozer. How this played out was no surprise, though. Coming into the game, Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell spoke about not being sure how everyone would perform, and that players probably would not be what they would become later in the season.
It was clear then that he was talking about his own squad, not Baylor. Because while Baylor will still get better this season -- a frightening thought for the rest of Division I -- the Lady Bears were fully ready to put on a high-level performance a week before Thanksgiving.
Nothing symbolized that "bad dream" feeling the Wildcats must have had quite like contrasting Kentucky's frequent futility from behind the arc with the fact that Baylor didn't even need for there to be a 3-point line in this game.
Kentucky was 5-of-27 from long range, a rather gruesome way to earn 15 points. Clankety-clank-clank! Baylor is more than happy to see a foe keep chucking up the ball from way outside and "hitting" at a glacial 18.5 percent.
But as if they were in a nightmare in which they kept swimming farther and farther into rough water, the Wildcats just couldn't stop themselves from tossing up so many unanswered prayers. Because when you're facing the likes of Brittney Griner and Destiny Williams inside -- along with Baylor's nimble guards -- trying to get closer to the rim doesn't seem like a valid option, either.
Meanwhile, Baylor took just three shots from behind the arc, and it was of no consequence that they missed all of them. Considering how effectively they got the ball to Griner (27 points) in her ever-expanding comfort zone and how well the entire team got to the rim, the Lady Bears didn't need to score from 3-point range. Point guard Odyssey Sims got her 18 points from 2-point distance and the foul line.
Baylor will require the long ball at times during the course of this season. And coach Kim Mulkey won't be happy that Baylor didn't capitalize on more of its 36 free throw attempts, as only 23 went in (63.9 percent). No matter how big the Lady Bears' lead is, Mulkey doesn't want them giving away points.
But overall, Tuesday was about the relentlessness of Baylor's attack versus the hopelessness of Kentucky's. Hopeless for this game, that is.
Some will see the Wildcats' hideous shooting numbers -- 19-of-70 (27.1 percent), with guard standouts A'dia Mathies and Bria Goss a combined 7-of-32 -- and deduce Kentucky is overrated. But Kentucky is not going to look anywhere near this bad against even other really good teams. And the Wildcats' press that was so declawed by Baylor's offensive success will still scratch the heck out of most opponents.
Kentucky got a harsh lesson in front of a Baylor crowd in a celebratory mood with a national-championship banner being raised. The Wildcats need to lick their wounds, but also realize those wounds aren't deep and shouldn't be lasting. They just had an excruciating front-row seat for seeing what the best women's college hoops team in the country looks like (until Connecticut or another team can prove otherwise).
Mulkey will go over this with a fine-toothed comb and point out everything that could be problematic, even in a game in which her team shot 50.8 percent from the floor and outrebounded Kentucky by 16. She'll find things far beyond the obvious missed free throws or 22 turnovers. Baylor is hungry to keep playing better basketball.
And Kentucky is, too. Mitchell is not content for the rest of his career to grind it out defensively and "out-athleticize" most foes in games of hurry-up ugly-ball. He wants Kentucky's offense to get significantly better -- not just for this season, but for the program's future -- and he'll use this game to push players toward that goal.
So wake up, Wildcats. This particular bad dream is over. You can be in crusher mode soon. Next on Kentucky's schedule? High Point, which visits Lexington, Ky., on Saturday. The Panthers were picked to finish second in the Big South, but still heaven help High Point.
As for Baylor, next up is a trip to Hawaii, where the Lady Bears will face their 2012 national semifinal foe, Stanford, on Friday. They'll take on Tennessee-Martin on Saturday and host Hawaii on Sunday.
All season long, we'll be looking for which opponents can actually stick in reality with Baylor. Most though, will find themselves in nightmare territory.
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