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By Parmida Schahhosseini
The No. 1 Lady Bears will make their first trip to Morgantown to square off against West Virginia at 6 p.m. Saturday. This will be the second meeting between these teams since West Virginia joined the Big 12. Last time the two teams met on Jan. 19, Baylor’s defense did its job holding West Virginia to 32.8 percent shooting.
West Virginia struggled offensively from the three-point line as well and only made four of its 14 attempts. Free throws were also a problem and ended up making a difference in the game. Baylor won the last meeting by 18 points; West Virginia missed 17 free throws.
Baylor’s top performer was senior center Brittney Griner, who was just one block away from a triple-double.
“She’s gotten better every year, and she’s under control at all times,” West Virginia head coach Mike Carey said after the first time the two teams met. “As a coach, you think she’s going over someone’s back. She’s really not. She’s jumping over them.”
The Mountaineers are entering the game on a three-game winning streak. Mountaineer guard Christal Caldwell is leading the team with 13 points per game and center Ayana Dunning is averaging 10.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.
Guard Taylor Palmer is also effective for West Virginia, scoring an average of 9.8 points per game.
West Virginia’s foul shooting can cause the team problems because its free throw percentage is at 65.2 percent, which is significantly lower than its opponents free throw percentage, 74.3 percent.
West Virginia does outrebound its opponents by three boards per game. However, Baylor has a +9.9 rebounding margin.
Baylor’s effective guard play comes from the players’ ability to make crisp passes into tight spaces.
Head coach Kim Mulkey stresses the importance of keeping the turnovers down to avoid extra possessions for the opponents. Mulkey’s emphasis on team play also contributes to Baylor’s ability to pass. Baylor leads the country in assists per game at 21.5.
The Lady Bears also lead the nation in assists to turnover ratio at 1.62. Baylor commits 13.4 turnovers per game for a +4.7 turnover ratio. Baylor’s opponents commit 18.1 turnovers per game against the Lady Bears. The defensive pressure Baylor puts on the opponents lead to potential steals and bad passes. The previous time Baylor played West Virginia, Baylor committed 19 turnovers compared to 13 from West Virginia.
West Virginia also has a positive turnover margin at 3.2. The Mountaineers commit 16.7 turnovers per game compared to the 19.9 committed by its opponents. West Virginia plays physical defense and clogs up passing lanes. Carey also stresses defense just as Mulkey does. Baylor plays well on all sides of the ball due to the quickness of their transition offense. Baylor has the second-highest second scoring offense, scoring an average of 80.9 points per game. Baylor has a +27.6 scoring margin compared to the +5.7 of West Virginia.
West Virginia scores an average of 65.4 points per game while holding their opponents to 59.8. Against Baylor, it needs to play its best as Mulkey tries to get the team ready for another run at the National Championship.
Baylor’s combination of speed and agility allows it to make fast breaks in transition and cause a lot of damage. It not only tires out the defense over time, but certain teams can’t keep up with Baylor’s speed. In Big 12 Conference play, Baylor has outscored its opponents 128-25 in transition. In all their games they outscored their opponent 196-52 in transition.
Baylor’s physical play is also another aspect that West Virginia needs to watch out for.
Baylor has scored 1,373 points in the paint this season, but with Griner in the post, the Lady Bears hold their opponents to 512 points in the paint.
West Virginia needs to play at their best to keep up with Baylor. Baylor currently holds the nation’s largest winning streak at 25 games as well as the nation’s largest regular season contest wins at 38 games.