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By Krista Pirtle
Freshman forward Chardonae Fuqua’ brings an athletic edge to the already loaded Baylor squad. A native of Birmingham, Ala., Fuqua’ excelled in track and field, winning three state championships in the high jump, as well as leading her basketball squad to two state championships.
She chose Baylor over LSU and Georgia because of its friendly atmosphere and the dedicated basketball program.
“Chardonae is just a tremendous athlete,” head coach Kim Mulkey said. “She’s learning everyday to become a better basketball player. She just has such good athleticism.”
In the exhibition game against Oklahoma City University, Fuqua’ played the three position and made quite a few hustle plays for the Lady Bears. She finished the game with two points.
Freshman post Kristina Higgins gives Baylor another big to go with down low. A native of El Paso, Higgins led her team to district titles and earned All-State recognitions herself. In the exhibition game against OCU, Higgins got comfortable down low, contributing a handful of points to the Lady Bears’ 66 in the paint.
One on fast break, Higgins ran the pipe well, but after that she remained slightly hunched, waiting on the point guard to bring the ball down the court.
“I thought Kristina ran the floor better than she did in practice,” Mulkey said. “But she’ll tell you she’s got to keep getting in better shape so she can do that for longer stretches.”
Higgins offers Mulkey different angles to attack the opponents, either playing with or for senior post Brittney Griner.
Freshman guard Niya Johnson has the ability to take the point guard position and set up junior guard Odyssey Sims at the two for a quick line-up.
Johnson, a McDonald’s All-American, was listed at No. 43 overall by ESPN HoopGurlz and the No. 8 point guard overall.
“As you saw, Niya’s a great passer and a floor general out there,” Mulkey said. “You better have your hands ready.”
Johnson has great court vision, but against OCU she committed four turnovers and had two assists.
Looking back at the game, Mulkey said that two of her turnovers were not Johnson’s fault. Her target just didn’t catch them.
When Johnson goes in, the tempo of the game slows down, that will improve once she gets more conditioning in.
Freshman guard Alexis Prince is the most impressive recruit in the class: a McDonald’s All-American and member of the US U-18 gold medal team this past summer. Prince has not seen much action with the Lady Bears however, due to a hot spot on her MRI.
Mulkey said she has quit asking about progress because her questions just make the process seem to drag on longer.
Prince was honored by the Big 12 women’s basketball coaches with the Preseason Freshman of the Year award.
The two and three positions were key to the Lady Bears’ national championship last season, and Prince will be a good fit for them.
When she enters the game for either senior Jordan Madden or Kimetria Hayden, the intensity will not lack.
Junior forward Mariah Chandler hit the court for the first time after redshirting last season.
“Mariah Chandler is the ultimate team player,” Mulkey said.
When Chandler got to Waco from Atlanta, Georgia, she played 25 games as a Lady Bear rookie, all off the bench, contributing 2.9 points and 2.0 rebounds in 8.0 minutes per outing.
Her next season, she returned from an MCL injury and played in 19 of 37 games, including nine of 16 Big 12 contests.
“Mariah came to us really not healthy,” Mulkey said. “Her knee has never really been completely 100 percent and when she would think it was, then she would have a little tweak here and set her back.”
Last season, Chandler was redshirted due to concerns about her knee and the depth of the Lady Bears at her position.
“She didn’t waste last year. She was working out twice as hard as everybody else in the weight room and to get her knee better,” Mulkey said.
“She’s a great student, so you were never worried about eligibility issues. She has leadership ability. It’s unselfish. It’s understanding the team is bigger than herself. Mariah gets that and yet at the same time she’s no different, she wants to play.”
In the Oklahoma City game, Chandler recorded five rebounds, a bucket, a pair of assists and a block.