By Jeffrey Swindoll
The 2013-14 Lady Bears basketball team was referred to as “The Odyssey Sims Show” early in the season. The senior guard from Irving was the only returning starter from last year’s team.
Sims clearly had a lot on her shoulders going into the 2013-14 season, playing with a lineup that did not have nearly as much experience as her past team that won a national championship two years ago in an undefeated 40-0 season. She has seen and lived the glory days of the Lady Bears basketball program.
The constant cycle of players coming in and out of the program is an essential aspect of college sports. Nothing lasts forever and Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey understands any good program goes through this process over and over again.
“I think when you lose a senior class like we lost, you sit there doing a scouting report and I think it’s to look and say ‘This is not the same team,’” Mulkey said. “You just try to sustain a program, and you’ve got to do that by recruiting. With recruiting, at some point, you’re going to be young again.”
The rest of the Lady Bears’ dependence on Sims was successful early on, but against top-ranked Connecticut in front of a home crowd at the Ferrell Center, the Lady Bears realized their one-dimensional play through Sims was a crutch against teams that play defense at a high level, such as UConn.
Sims had one of her worst nights against UConn, making four of 25 field goal attempts, and yet the Lady Bears were still competing with the No. 1 team in the nation.
Sims’ uncharacteristic performance proved it is not the be-all-end-all of the team’s success.
“When Odyssey Sims has a night like she does and you are within three points of tying the ball game with the No. 1 team in the country — you feel good,” Mulkey said after the UConn game. “Odyssey Sims will not have many nights like that but she is on my team and I will take her any day.”
Criticism about Sims, as expected, rose after that night, as many said she is a ‘ball-hog’ and does not trust her team. Mulkey was the first to refute this, denying the assertion of Sims being a ‘ball-hog’ and explaining why she may take an unusually high amount of shots for the Lady Bears.
“I think she’s as confident today as she was when we started the year,” Mulkey said. “She’s the ultimate team player. It’s just she thinks she can make those shots.”
Sims has also been vocal towards debunking rumors that she does not trust her team, showing she is well aware of these criticisms and strongly disagrees.
“I’ve always trusted [my team],” Sims said. “It’s just them feeding off of me more and not watching me play as much now. We’ve got a good freshmen class. They’re fun to watch.”
The Lady Bears then went to Kansas and lost for the first time in conference play. Baylor collapsed on the road against the Jayhawks 76-60 after leading at the half.
Mulkey’s team still had not successfully put two competitive halves together in conference play, but as more games went on, Sims’ average points per game slowly dropped.
The team was noticeably more confident against Oklahoma State. Against Texas Tech, the Lady Bears finally turned in a full team performance. More of Sims’ teammates stepped up, making shots, grabbing rebounds and dishing out assists night after night.
“We’re going to see some kids blossom,” Mulkey said. “I don’t know when, but we’re going to compete.”
Senior guard Makenzie Robertson scored an average of 14.5 points in the past four games. Freshman forward Nina Davis earned her sixth straight double-double against Texas Tech.
Mulkey said she is surprised by how well freshmen Ieshia Small and Davis hit the ground running and contribute to the team consistently in their first season.
Small and Davis posted 18 points in total. Both were perfect from the free throw line.
Junior post Sune Agbuke was in the double-digits for rebounding and avoided foul trouble for the first time in the last four games.
“[Getting rebounds consistently] is a big thing that we emphasize,” Agbuke said. “That’s something that I’ve worked on.”
Sophomore guard Niya Johnson posted seven assists in just 18 minutes.
They went through some growing pains, but Mulkey finally feels her team is playing with the most enjoyment and confidence all season.
“I think our freshmen are playing with as much confidence as they’ve had all year,” Mulkey said after the Texas Tech game. “They’re smarter with the ball. It’s good to see they’re taking shots, they’re not turning the ball over and they’re doing it at the right time.”