By Jeffrey Swindoll
With only four games left before the Big 12 Tournament in Oklahoma City, it is safe to say that the Lady Bears’ unorthodox schedule has played into the strengths and weaknesses of Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey’s young team.
Mulkey said she did not have a complete idea of how her team would be able do this season, nor did she have set opinion on the way she felt about the schedule worked out.
Before the season began, the majority of the players had never seen the other teams in the Big 12 yet.
The Lady Bears played very different teams every week, with no real pattern to when they would play.
The amount of different competition and game-planning for each team could have been overwhelming for both Mulkey and her players.
This season though, almost every matchup against a Big 12 team, was followed up by another game against that same team within a week. Texas, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Kansas were each huge games for Baylor, both home and away.
Remembering the strategy and tactics to beat those teams were fresh in the minds of the coaching staff and the players.
It was less to take in at one time. This helped Baylor win and grow familiar with the players around the conference and recognize their tendencies.
The schedule has allowed players such as freshman forward Nina Davis to really grow, even in her first season.
“I feel myself getting more confident each game,” Davis said.
Now Davis knows who she matches up against and has only two road games left in the season. The schedule has facilitated the first season for many of the Lady Bears in a more manageable way. It has helped players blossom and grow in their first year of college basketball.
“They’re a lot better than they were four months ago,” senior guard Odyssey Sims said. “They steadily impress me every day, every game.”
Former Lady Bear Brittney Griner brought a lot of national attention to the women’s basketball program at Baylor.
A lot of people wondered how the Lady Bears would do without their All-American player in the post anymore.
National scrutiny was a big possibility for this very young team, but the Lady Bears started this season very low-key. Most of the games were at home, and few were even on television.
This was no mistake from Mulkey. She wanted to give her players an opportunity to get comfortable with each other and their home court. The schedule was a strategic way of helping the team grow.
“I think that we have protected the youth on this team by the schedule that we put in place,” Mulkey said.
Knowing her team had not really played in any big games yet, the early season served as a build up to two of the Lady Bears’ toughest games this season — Kentucky and Connecticut, two talented teams that got the best of the Lady Bears.
“When you play the best, it gives you a gauge of how good you are, and maybe gives you a goal that you might not have had because you just didn’t know how good we could be,” Mulkey said.
After playing Connecticut and losing 66-55 on Jan 13, there was nothing but Big 12 play remaining for the Lady Bears.
Mulkey affirms that Connecticut absolutely is the best team in the country. That has made the Lady Bears’ Big 12 matchups seem easier.
They quietly started out, but after going through some tough tests against good teams, including a triple-overtime defeat against Kentucky and a hard fought game against top-ranked Connecticut, the Lady Bears can look back and appreciate the way the schedule has helped them grow as individuals and as a team.
The Lady Bears will next take the court at 11 a.m. Saturday against TCU in Fort Worth. The Horned Frogs are 15-11 overall.