COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Texas A&M coach Gary Blair thought his team would win if it shot 40 percent against No. 1 Baylor.
The 17th-ranked Aggies shot 46.4 percent, but what he didn't count on was them making just 9 of 19 free throws in a 69-62 loss to the Lady Bears on Monday night.
While both teams were in foul trouble in this one, the difference came at the free-throw line. Baylor made 23 of its 28 attempts, while Texas A&M struggled, with Tyra White missing six of her 10 tries.
"We've got to work on our free throws," said Sydney Carter, who missed two of her four attempts. "I've got to do better. We've got to be better. Free throws can win a game."
Brittney Griner and Odyssey Sims scored 25 points each and the Lady Bears used a late run to hold off the Aggies.
Baylor (30-0, 17-0 Big 12) led by one point before going on a 6-0 run that was aided unintentionally by an official. Griner made a jump shot before Kimetria Hayden knocked the ball out of Alexia Standish's hands. With the ball almost sure to go out of bounds, it bounced off an official and remained on the court, setting up a layup by Sims before Hayden added a basket to make it 67-60 with 1:39 remaining.
Both teams agreed that the play with the official was pivotal in the game, and Sims said she just did what she was taught on it.
"Coaches say: 'The play is not over,'" Sims said. "'Just stay with it. If you don't hear a whistle, keep playing.'"
Blair wishes that the official would have talked the play over with the rest of the crew.
"Ask for help on a controversial play like that," Blair said. "That was huge."
It was a much more competitive game than the first meeting between these teams when Baylor won 71-48.
"We've gotten better since we got embarrassed in Waco," Blair said.
The Lady Bears have matched the 2009-10 Nebraska team for the best start in conference history and have their second straight 30-win season.
White's 14 points led A&M (20-8, 11-6).
Baylor got its 10th win in last 11 tries against A&M in Big 12 regular-season meetings, with the Aggies moving to the Southeastern Conference next season.
The Lady Bears have already claimed their second straight regular-season conference championship and are the only undefeated team in Division I.
The crowd of more than 10,000 heckled Baylor, and especially Mulkey, throughout the game, and some fans were still yelling at players as they left the court after the win. Mulkey pumped her fist and smiled as she exited and Griner put her hand to her ear and flashed a thumbs-up on her way out.
The thumbs-up is A&M's "Gig Em" hand signal, but Mulkey denied that Griner meant to mock A&M with her gesture. Griner said winning what could be the last game against A&M didn't mean any more than any other victory.
Griner and Sims were both in foul trouble on Monday and Griner sat out for long stretches in both halves because of it. Sims picked up her fourth foul with more than 7 minutes left, but she never came out, playing 40 minutes.
Texas A&M alternated 6-foot-4 Kelsey Bone and 6-5 Karla Gilbert to try and slow Griner. They both got in foul trouble early in the second half. Gilbert fouled out with about 12 minutes remaining and Bone picked up her fourth just seconds later, sending her to the bench.
Things were evened out about a minute later when Griner picked up her fourth foul knocking Kelsey Assarian down on the offensive end and the Baylor star also left the game.
Carter added 13 points, Adaora Elonu had 12 points and Bone had 10 for A&M. Destiny Williams had 12 rebounds and three steals for Baylor and the 25 points by Sims tied her season high.
Baylor used a 6-2 run, with all of its points coming on free throws, to go up 58-53 with about 7 minutes left. Griner re-entered the game about a minute later, but A&M got going again going on a 7-3 run to cut the lead to 61-60 with 3 1/2 to go.
Baylor led 45-43 after a 3-pointer by Hayden with about 15 minutes left. Carter put A&M back on top with a 3 soon after that, but Griner scored five straight points to give Baylor a 50-46 lead with about 11 minutes remaining.
The Aggies opened the second half with a 7-1 run to take their first lead of the game, 38-37, with just under 17 minutes remaining.
The Lady Bears led by 14 points when Griner went to the bench with about 6 minutes left in the first half. The Aggies took advantage of Griner's absence and went on a 17-8 run to close to gap to 36-31 at halftime. Elonu scored 10 points for A&M in that span.
"We were just attacking the basket," Carter said of that span. "When Griner came out with foul trouble, we knew we could go inside. They didn't have that big stop sign in there to stop shots. We just went into attack mode."