Atunrase came off the bench to score 16 of her 24 points in a key first half run to lead No. 20 Texas A&M to a surprisingly easy 72-53 win over eighth-ranked Baylor on Saturday. The victory extends the Aggies' winning streak to a Big 12 conference-best five games.
The Aggies led by one point before the run, fueled by Atunrase, that pushed the lead to 19 at halftime. Blair saw that sending Atunrase in would create a mismatch with Baylor's Melissa Jones.
"The only thing I could remember in my head was coach telling me, 'attack, attack, attack,"' Atunrase said. "It's hard for her to guard you off the dribble, so that's what I focused on coming into the game."
Blair said the key to Atunrase's success Saturday was playing better inside the 3-point arc.
"She was so fast. She was going too quick and that's where she was getting the 3-for-9s, 3-for-12s," Blair said. "As long as she relaxes and sets her moves and gets to the free throw line, she's a beautiful player to watch."
That last comment caused the soft-spoken Atunrase, sitting at Blair's side, to mouth the words, "Thank you."
The Bears (24-4, 12-3) had a chance to clinch at least a share of the regular season Big 12 title with a win, but instead suffered their worst loss since a 24-point defeat by then-No. 5 Stanford in December.
"We're still playing for a Big 12 championship," Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. "We could have sealed it and we didn't. We've got to regroup. This is just one game and we're certainly not going to leave this building with our heads down."
Baylor won its first meeting with A&M this season with a last-minute 3-pointer, but this time the Aggies took over midway through the first half and led by double-digits the rest of the game.
The Aggies led by 19 at halftime and a 7-1 run stretched the lead to 57-32 midway through the second half. Patrice Reado made all of A&M's points in that span.
Baylor outscored A&M 15-6 in the next 4 1/2 minutes, capped by a 3-pointer by Angela Tisdale, to cut the lead to 63-47 with about 51/2 minutes to play. The Bears wouldn't get any closer as the Aggies scored seven straight points, fueled by two 3-pointers by Takia Starks to make it 70-47.
Starks, who finished with 12 points, got her fourth foul with 14 minutes left and missed about eight minutes before returning to the game and promptly hitting those two 3-pointers.
Neither team scored a basket in the first three minutes of the second half until 5-foot-3 Aggie guard A'Quonesia Franklin drove past a trio of Baylor defenders for a nifty layup that made it 43-21.
The Aggies trailed by three early in the game before scoring six straight points to take a 12-9 lead with about 12 minutes remaining in the half. A jump shot by Jessika Bradley cut the lead to one before A&M scored five straight, capped by a 3-pointer by Danielle Gant to push its lead to 17-11. Gant had 18 points and 12 rebounds.
The Bears got within one again with about seven minutes left in the first half, but the Aggies went on a 23-5 run to lead 40-21 at halftime. Atunrase scored 16 points, including two 3-pointers, in that span. She finished with six rebounds, three blocks and two assists.
Baylor had six turnovers in that time and went almost six minutes without scoring a basket, until Tisdale's jump shot with about 90 seconds left in the half.
The Bears were led by Tisdale's 25 points, but she also had five of their 20 turnovers.
Mulkey and her players commented on the how physical the game was.
"It was real physical, just with them bumping," Baylor's Danielle Wilson said. "You've got to keep your composure and fight through it."