By Parmida Schahhosseini
It’s a new year and a new team for the Baylor Lady Bears after losing six seniors – center Brittney Griner, guard Kimetria Hayden, guard Jordan Madden, forward Brooklyn Pope, forward Destiny Williams and student assistant Shanay Washington.
With the Griner era over, it’s up to the new seniors to lead the talented underclassmen to their potential. It will be a big task for the post players, but after practicing against Griner, they are up to the challenge.
“We hear it and I mean it’s obvious,” junior post Sune Agbuke said. “You can’t compare us to her in any way. We went against her last year every day, and I’ve been going against her for the past two years, so in that regard we’re not afraid of anybody. We know our worth and we don’t feel insecure about anything.”
Agbuke will most likely be the starting post player and showed flashes of dominance against Palm Beach Atlantic. With two big blocks, Agbuke guarded the paint and was a big reason Palm Beach Atlantic shot 28 percent from the field.
Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey has a history of success and has won a national title prior to Griner’s arrival.
With the depth this year, the Lady Bears have the potential to contend with anybody in the country.
Freshman guard Ieshia Small was a highly prized recruit and was one of 26 athletes to be invited to the 2012 USA Women’s U18 National Team Trials. During her senior year, Small posted 25 points, 9.0 rebounds, 5.4 assists and five steals while leading her team to a 22-7 record. Against PBA, Small was effective on the bench going 5-9 for 13 points.
Another freshman expected to make a big contribution is post Khadijiah Cave. When Baylor was only up by six, Cave made her presence known inside the post. Her ability to draw the contact coupled with her instinct make her a force to be reckoned with inside the paint. Cave finished with 13 points against PBA.
As Mulkey continues to emphasize excellent guard play, sophomore guard Niya Johnson hasn’t shied away from the pressure. Johnson displayed tremendous growth during her freshman season, which led to an increase in playing time. As the only freshman to play in every game, averaging 15.8 minutes a game, Johnson became the tenth Lady Bears player to dish out 11 or more assists after putting up a career-high 11 at Rice last season. Johnson’s ability to make crisp passes has led to efficient guard play.
Sophomore guard Alexis Prince had a strong freshman campaign, being one of five to be named to the Big 12’s all-freshman team. Prince averaged 10.6 points per game and added 5.6 rebounds after averaging 13.9 minutes a game. However, Prince will be sidelined for a while after offseason surgery because of stress fractures on both feet.
With the departure of Griner, sophomore post Kristina Higgins will see more playing time after averaging 4.7 minutes per game last season. Sophomore forward Chardonae Fuqua’ also is a key returning player.
This Baylor team only has two seniors, but with guard Odyssey Sims leading the way, the Bears have a good foundation to work on. Sims was selected as one of 30 candidates for the Senior CLASS award for women’s basketball. Despite being the only returning starter, Sims is taking it in stride.
“It felt different, the first game of not having BG on the inside, but I kind of like it.” Sims said. “It’s a new team, new players, it’s different, but I think it’ll be more fun. We can get out and run more and press more.”
Senior guard Makenzie Robertson was effective on the boards with 15 rebounds. Against Palm Beach Atlantic, Robertson was physical and pressed often.
“Makenzie has waited her turn,” Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey said. “She sat that bench patiently for three years. All I ever tell them to do is to do things to contribute to a win and she was just around the basketball. She was active and she had good passes; that doesn’t just happen. We are on the perimeter players to all help rebound.”
The style of play will be different this year, but one thing will remain the same: defense.
Mulkey stresses the effectiveness of being strong defensively because that is what will fuel the offense. Speed and physicality will be what Baylor relies on this year because those breakaways can lead to point.
One concern this young team faces is playing disciplined basketball.
It will be interesting to see how the Lady Bears will fare against stiffer competition, but with the depth and athleticism on the team, the Lady Bears can be a contender on an annual basis thanks to Mulkey.