SOUTH BEND, Ind. — A highly anticipated rematch wasn't much of a match at all.
Baylor didn't need four overtimes against Kentucky this time.
It didn't need more than a dominant first half to knock the Cats out of the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 on Saturday, 90-72 in Notre Dame's Purcell Pavilion.
"It's certainly not the way we wanted the season to end," Coach Matthew Mitchell said. "It was a very difficult day."
Kentucky couldn't find itself on either end of the floor, with the Cats' leading scorer failing to fire and a defense that allowed the Bears to shoot 47.8 percent.
Eight missed layups in the first half and 12 in the game made UK seem cursed from the start. Mitchell wondered if those easy misses that helped set up quick scores for Baylor changed the game.
"We did not put forth a Kentucky type effort on defense," he said of the Cats, who only turned Baylor over nine times, a season low for a UK opponent. "It was very disappointing. That's why I say we looked ill prepared."
The teams swapped baskets early and Kentucky grabbed a 5-4 lead in the first three minutes, causing Kim Mulkey to call a quick timeout.
"Sometimes you just want to change the flow of a game," the Baylor coach said. "I felt like at that time I could get on them and challenge them and let them know that they needed to play as fired up as I was coaching."
It worked. The Bears (32-4) went on a 16-2 run over the next six minutes, holding UK to just one field goal in that span. It took the Cats nine minutes to score their first 10 points.
For a short spurt midway through the first half, UK found some rhythm and cut the Bears' lead to four points twice before Baylor used a 19-4 run to grab its largest lead of the game, 49-30, late in the first half.
"We tried our best to just stay on top of them and never let up," said Baylor star Odyssey Sims, who finished below her 28.5 point average (second best in the nation) with 25 points.
Sims became just the second Division I player ever (Southwest Missouri State's Jackie Stiles is the other) to score 1,000 points in a season with her second bucket of the game. She had plenty of help from freshmen forwards Nina Davis (20 points, eight rebounds) and Khadijiah Cave (18 points, nine rebounds).
"They have some great post players that are very strong and aggressive, so we just tried to match their aggressiveness and take control of that part of the game," Davis said.
Kentucky, which trailed by its largest halftime margin of the season, 49-32, had a mini-run early in the second half, but could never get any closer than 12 points.
"We just dug ourselves in a big hole, and it was just too difficult to get the score back within reach," said freshman guard Linnae Harper, who had 12 of her 14 points in the second half.
The Cats (26-9) were led by senior DeNesha Stallworth's 19 points and eight rebounds, but their other top scorers this season — Jennifer O'Neill, Bria Goss, Samarie Walker, Janee Thompson and Kastine Evans — went a combined 5-for-35 from the field.
For just the third time this season, O'Neill didn't make a basket.
After scoring a school-record 43 points in the first meeting between these teams in early December at Arlington, Texas, the guard missed all 12 shots she attempted on Saturday.
"Well, your leading scorer goes 0-for-12, that's not a real good recipe for moving forward in this kind of environment, this tournament," Mitchell said.
Instead Kentucky, which rose to as high as No. 5 in the nation in December, had to settle for its trip to end in the Sweet 16.
And as disappointed as Mitchell and his players were, they tried to remember where they were a few short weeks ago, coming off a loss at Florida, falling to 5-5 in the Southeastern Conference.
Mitchell referenced that loss to the Gators as he reflected on the season from the NCAA Tournament dais.
"I don't think anyone was expecting us to be here at this point," he said. "So right now, we've got to try to get over this disappointment, hang onto the positive things and find a way to move forward and get better."
Goss, who had 13 points, said her team has come a long way.
"That's what has to stay in our minds, that we've come so far and that we were the team that Coach knew we could be," Goss said. "We didn't do everything right and it's going to hurt today, but we were that team."
Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukwomen.bloginky.com.