By Nathan Keil | Sports Editor
For many teams in Division I basketball, having only nine available players probably wouldn’t be ideal.
For No. 3 Baylor, currently 19-1 overall and 9-0 in the Big 12, it hasn’t been an issue. Not only has it not been an issue, it has given two freshman guards, Alexis Morris and Didi Richards, the opportunity to shine and blossom right in front of Baylor Nation’s eyes.
Morris said she considers herself lucky to have an opportunity to contribute to a great team and a great program during her first season.
“I look at it like an opportunity to play on this level and grow as a player and a person. It’s a blessing to be a freshman,” Morris said. “Not many freshmen are capable of doing what I can do, especially playing in Baylor’s program, so it’s a blessing.”
But for head coach Kim Mulkey, their success and ability to contribute hasn’t been much of a surprise. Mulkey feels that they have the experience of playing at a high level and are well-prepared for the moments and situations they see on a nightly basis for Baylor.
“They’re good, first of all,” Mulkey said. “They played a lot of basketball in their life. They play at the highest-level summer teams. They got a little swag about them, like a lot of freshmen want to have but they have it because they can back it up. They just have a personality about them.”
Morris has been excellent off the bench for Baylor this season. Not only does she run the offense to give senior guard Kristy Wallace a breather, but she allows Wallace to play off the ball in order to get her some good perimeter looks in the offense.
In 19 games this season, Morris averages just less than 10 points per game, while shooting 47 percent from the floor, 50 from distance and 81 from the free throw line. She averages nearly three assists and three rebounds per game as well.
Mulkey said Morris is just smooth on the court as visible in the way she moves, defends and shoots the ball.
Richards’ versatility is what makes her a stand-out. She averages a touch more than five points per game to go along with four rebounds and two assists. She has been an effective shooter as well, hitting 46 percent from the floor.
Mulkey said Richards’ determination to help the team and her underrated size and strength allow her to be so versatile on the court.
“Didi has a little bit up there in her neck and she’ll go out there with Lauren [Cox] and go play in the post and play with the best of them,” Mulkey said. “’You need me to go out there and guard outside, yeah, I’ll go do that too.’ When you look at her body, it doesn’t look like she can do that but she’s a lot stronger than you think.”
Richards and Morris have never been afraid of the big moment. In fact, in their biggest game this season, they may have brought their best game yet.
In Thursday’s 81-56 win over then No. 6 Texas, Richards and Morris were the star understudies to Wallace’s virtuoso performance.
Morris played 32 minutes while Richards played 24. Morris finished with eight points, four rebounds and two steals. Richards scored eight points and eight rebounds, including getting Baylor extra possessions by grabbing six offensive rebounds.
In Sunday’s come-from-behind win against No. 20 West Virginia, Richards again chipped in with eight points off the bench, while grabbing two rebounds and collecting two steals. Morris did not get in the scoring column, but she dished out four assists in 15 minutes of action.
As much as they have contributed to the offense, it is their defense and their attention to detail that sets them apart, said to Mulkey.
“The part that really handcuffs freshmen in my program is they usually mess up on the defensive end. Those two don’t mess up much on the defensive side of the floor,” Mulkey said. “Their quickness allows them when they do mess up to quickly recover and yet they have knowledge of the game.”
Although they have been successful so far, they know the job remains unfinished. With the Big 12 and NCAA Tournaments approaching, it only gets more challenging. But challenges aren’t to be feared; they are to be overcome.
“It’s definitely a challenge, but I don’t run from challenges. I charge at them,” Morris said.
The next challenge is when Baylor hosts No. 20 Oklahoma State at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Ferrell Center.