By Jeffrey Swindoll
For most teams in the NCAA tournament, March Madness is a time of year that brings new opponents and fresh faces to match up against out of conference opponents. It is debatable whether a brand new opponent is an advantage or a disadvantage, but the Lady Bears will face a familiar foe in the Sweet Sixteen against Kentucky on Saturday.
“I quite honestly would like to see somebody we haven’t played,” Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey said. “I think that’s the excitement of the NCAA Tournament, but at the same time, it’s so long ago that’s we’re two totally different teams now.”
The Lady Bears will get a rematch of their Dec. 6 game in Arlington earlier this season against the Kentucky Wildcats at 11 a.m. Saturday in South Bend, Ind.
In that first contest between the Bears and Wildcats, Kentucky, ranked No. 5 at the time, won 133-130 in an epic quadruple-overtime match, but both teams have changed significantly in terms of depth and play style since their original meeting.
“I think the only thing you can take from that game is knowing what the strengths and weaknesses of individuals players are,” Mulkey said. “Both teams really have changed a lot.”
Kentucky now plays more zone defense since the game in Arlington. The Wildcats’ style of play has changed and Mulkey pointed out the differences in Kentucky, but also a drastic difference in her own players.
The freshmen are more confident and the team has a greater understanding of the offensive game plan. So much has changed since the first game against Kentucky. Neither coaches or players really give the first game much thought going into Saturday.
“I think we can take a lot from the first game. We’re not going to dwell on it or anything, but there’s a lot we can learn and gotten better at since then,” senior guard Makenzie Robertson said.
Mulkey specifically said her team’s defense must be better this time around, admitting the Lady Bears gave up too many points and evaluating their defense as “pretty bad.”
Against a big and tall team like Kentucky, most would think the post players would be the defensive focus for the Lady Bears on Saturday.
However, senior guard Odyssey Sims brought up the players she thought really punished the Lady Bears in their first meeting with Kentucky.
“It wasn’t really their post player who hurt us,” Sims said. “It was the guards. Our main thing is to stop dribble penetration. Our offense will come, we’re not worried about that. We’re going to really have to buckle down and stop their guards because they are pretty good.”
The Lady Bears have improved their defense and offense, and are actually ranked higher than Kentucky now.
This time, the Lady Bears are not the underdogs, but that does not mean it will be easy.
“They were a great team; still are a great team,” Sims said. “We’re looking forward to the rematch, but I think we’ll come out with a little more sense of urgency and get on them a little more than we did.”