- Graham Hays, espnW.com
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HARTFORD, Conn. -- Trying her best to stay in front of Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis at one point early in Monday's game between No. 1 Baylor and No. 3 Connecticut, Odyssey Sims found herself positioned as a human pinball.
Sliding toward midcourt, Baylor's point guard bounced hard off an unyielding screen from Stefanie Dolson. She quickly gathered herself and reversed course, only to run smack into Dolson's repositioned human wall and bounce away once more. Still, Sims managed to keep her wits about her, found herself in perfect position to claim a ball that popped loose and raced away toward open court between her and the basket at the other end.
Only to have her layup blocked by Connecticut's Morgan Tuck.
It was that kind of night for one of the nation's best guards.
It didn't end up being that kind of night for Baylor, which also had something to do with Sims.
Basketball can be a funny game. In front of a boisterous capacity crowd of 16,294 at the XL Center, one player made a strong case for All-America consideration by turning in a career night. And lost.
Conversely, one All-American struggled through one of her worst shooting nights in a long time. And won.
After a masterpiece, Connecticut's Mosqueda-Lewis talked in hushed disappointment about a game that got away in spite of her 26 points and 15 rebounds.
After her team's 76-70 victory, Baylor's Sims could focus on as effective a 3-of-15 shooting performance as anyone probably ever enjoyed in this building against this team.
Sims spent the first half struggling with more than just Dolson's screens. She hit only 1 of 10 shots from the floor before the break. She had two assists in 20 minutes, no rebounds and no free throw attempts. The spotlight was on Brittney Griner, who suffered through her own first-half misery against constant double-teams from the Huskies, but Baylor's other All-American was equally unable to take command. Only a flurry of offensive rebounds and points in the paint saved the Lady Bears from trailing by considerably more than three points at the break.
"She's earned the right to press a little bit and shoot some forced shots," Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. "But I think what Odyssey was trying to do was all done in the flow of hustle -- 'I'm trying to make something happen, coach.'"
While Sims tried, Mosqueda-Lewis did make things happen. The sophomore scored Connecticut's first basket by getting behind the defense in transition, then sneaked in among Griner and Destiny Williams for three early offensive rebounds. She had a double-double by halftime with 13 points and 10 rebounds. She hit 5 of 6 shots when nobody else on either team was having much luck finding the bottom of the net, and even added two assists and two blocks. A year ago, Mosqueda-Lewis used her price-of-admission stroke to score 15 points against Baylor, but that was all she did. In 32 minutes, she didn't get a single assist, block, steal or even a rebound.
The player on the court Monday night, as she has been for much of the season, was an all-around force.
"I've tried to make a big effort of being more than just a scorer," Mosqueda-Lewis said. "Rebounding has been one of my main points, trying to do better in that area, I just kind of tried to go out there and make a conscious effort tonight to be aggressive and go after the boards. Coach said that was going to be a big part of whether we won or lost tonight, but it didn't really do enough."
She was fabulous in the second half, too, scoring 13 more points on 6-of-8 shooting and adding five additional rebounds. But after the game she talked about the minutes she went without a touch -- without demanding a touch or even forcing the issue. Her remorse seemed an act of unnecessary self-flagellation after a night when she did so much, but it was clearly a message she had recently heard.
"This was the kind of game that Maya [Moore] used to have," Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said. "The only difference is that, I think there was about a seven-minute stretch, eight-minute stretch maybe, where Kaleena wasn't involved. Tonight was the kind of night Maya would have got 50-, [or] 40-something. Kaleena's just learning how much more she can do than what she did tonight. Tonight she was phenomenal, but if I show you the film, you'll see."
Which brings the story back to Sims. Though she hit a 3-pointer late in the second half, she never did find much kindness from the rim, but as she and others fed Griner time and again, Baylor made its run.
"Sometimes they can get going too fast," Mulkey said. "Just slow down, let the game come to you a little bit. And she did hit a big 3 on a backside pass. You know, she didn't have the best of nights, but she did what she had to do. She managed the game. She made sure the second half that we got the right touches for the right people at the right time. She's a junior now. She can go 0-for-10, and I'm going to tell her to keep shooting."
The thing is, Sims never played like someone suffering through a night to forget. When Connecticut was back on its heels even a little in the second half, she pushed the ball hard -- and nobody in college basketball pushes the ball in transition quite like Sims. There is a suddenness to it best appreciated in person. She finished one push herself, came to an abrupt halt at the free throw line on another and dropped a perfect pass to Brooklyn Pope for a basket.
And when the Huskies made a run of their own and brought the crowd back to life, there was the speedy Sims, slowly, calmly walking the ball upcourt, in no hurry until the exact moment she snapped a pass from just inside midcourt to Griner, lulling the defense for the extra half a beat Griner needed to get a rare easy field goal.
Sims finished with seven assists and no turnovers. And while only credited with two official steals, she disrupted four or five times that many passes or dribbles.
"She is going to find the right player with the right pass," Auriemma said. "But she's also going to strip two of your guys, or three of your guys, at crucial times, which is exactly what she did. She's probably the best defensive guard in terms of pressuring the ball and making things happen.
"It's not a coincidence the only game they lost is the one she didn't play in."
A brilliant performance in a big game wasn't enough for Mosqueda-Lewis. A rough outing wasn't as bad as it looked at times for Sims.
"That's what your All-Americans do," Mulkey said. "They want to make something happen."
In that respect, Mosqueda-Lewis and Sims had exactly the same kind of night.
16dBonnie D. Ford