Top-seeded Baylor women roll 89-59 over Idaho to NCAA opener

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WACO, Texas (AP) Alexis Jones had to wait three years to get back into the NCAA Tournament. The standout forward had quite a debut with top-seeded Baylor.

Jones hit a 3-pointer on the game’s first shot and went on to score 23 points in the Lady Bears’ 89-59 victory over Idaho in a first-round Dallas Region game on their home court.

“She’s been talking about it all week. She was excited before the game, she was really hyped,” said Nina Davis, Baylor’s three-time All-Big 12 forward. “We knew that she was going come out and she was going to be on her A-game.”

Jones appeared in the NCAA Tournament as a freshman with Duke three years ago, but tore her left ACL before the postseason of her sophomore year with the Blue Devils. After transferring back to her home state of Texas, Jones redshirting with Baylor last season while recovering from the ACL surgery and a procedure to repair a microfracture in her right knee.

“Alexis, she’s just finally getting back to where she was before,” coach Kim Mulkey said. “Wow, what a great time for her to start playing the way she is. I think it started a month or so ago.”

Davis had 18 points and seven rebounds, while Niya Johnson had 16 assists and five rebounds for the Lady Bears (34-1), who have won 21 in a row. Kristy Wallace added 13 points, all while making her first five field goals in the first 12 minutes.

Ali Forde had 17 points to lead Idaho (24-10), while Christina Salvatore had 12 while making only 3-of-14 3-pointers.

Jones, who was MVP of the Big 12 tournament Baylor won for the sixth consecutive season, was 9-of-15 shooting with five 3-pointers, and also had eight rebounds and five assists in her first NCAA game for the Lady Bears – after this season joining their standout duo of Davis and senior point guard Johnson, the national assists leader.

“You put Jones into this mix …. they can get to the Final Four,” Idaho coach Jon Newlee said. “Jones is the X-factor that they didn’t have last year, along with depth inside. They’re going to get there.”

The Lady Bears still have a few games to go, but are only one win away from their eighth straight Sweet 16.

Baylor never trailed after Jones’ game-opening 3, and she also had a 3-pointer to start the scoring after halftime.

“It’s just exciting to know that the whole team came out and had a lot of energy,” Jones said. “It’s just a really good feeling.”