By Nathan Keil | Sports Editor
Baylor women’s basketball finds itself in familiar territory as it gears up for its Sweet 16 matchup with No. 6 Oregon State.
The Lady Bears have advanced to the Sweet 16 for 10 straight years and 13 times under head coach Kim Mulkey.
But despite the tournament success and Baylor’s consistent berth heading into the second weekend of the tournament, the Lady Bears have historically fallen short of their goal of the Final Four, losing in the Elite Eight for the last three years.
Sophomore forward Lauren Cox said the team celebrates every win, but they remain focused on the greater goal in mind.
“We celebrate it after the game, like the second round, we celebrated that, but then the next day, we were back in the film room, back in practice, focusing on the next game,” Cox said. “We really have to step up. Kalani [Brown], D[ekeiya] C[ohen] have all said that we have to get over this Elite Eight hump and get to the Final Four.”
One of the keys for the Lady Bears in advancing to the second weekend has been the elevated play of sophomore guard Juicy Landrum. Landrum scored eight points in their 96-46 win over Grambling State, but scored 17 points, dished out four assists and connected on three of her five three-point attempts in Baylor’s 80-58 win over Michigan.
However, Landrum’s jump in offensive production hasn’t been her most impressive. Although important to her team’s success, Mulkey credits Landrum’s commitment to the defensive end of the ball as being her greatest contribution.
“I’ve always thought she has a beautiful shot and great range, but her problem as a freshman was just learning defensive principles and learning passing lanes and help side,” Mulkey said. “To watch her grow in that area and become an all around player, she’s probably playing more confident on the perimeter than any player we have right now.”
Against Michigan, Landrum drew the assignment of hounding the Wolverines’ all-time leading scorer senior guard Katelyn Flaherty all over the court. Flaherty did manage to finish with 18 points against the Lady Bears, but she was just six of 20 from the floor.
Landrum and the rest of the Lady Bears’ will need a repeat performance if they want to advance to the Elite Eight for a shot at either Stanford or the top seed Louisville.
Mulkey said being able to stop the Beavers from the three-point line is going to determine the outcome of the game.
“Three-point shooting — they’re going to make about eight and a half threes a game, shoot about 21 or 22 a game,” Mulkey said. “They have size. Their offense is very difficult to defend and we didn’t do a very good job of that two years ago.”
On the season, the Lady Bears give up about six three-pointers a game, but hold their opponent to just a 28 percent clip. Dealing with Oregon State will put that defense to the test.
The Beavers hit 10 of 23 attempts in their 82-58 win over Western Kentucky in the first round, but just five of 19 in their 66-59 upset win over Tennessee in the second round. But on the season, Oregon State shoots 40 percent from distance and hits nearly nine a game.
Oregon State is led by its six-foot-five-inch senior center Marie Gulich, who averages 17.3 points and nearly 10 rebounds a game while shooting 65 percent from the floor and 75 percent from the free throw line.
Sophomore guards Kat Tudor and Mikayla Pivec have both scored double figures for the Beavers as well. Tudor averages 12 a game, shoots 41 percent from distance and has connected on a team high 84 three-pointers this season. Pivec averages 11.4 points per game and nearly five assists while shooting 34 percent from beyond the arc.
Freshman guard Aleah Goodman shoots a team-high 47 percent from distance while averaging less than seven points per game.
“It’s very important to take away, we want to focus on getting out there and forcing them to drive and do something they’re not used to doing,” Cohen said.
The same way that Oregon State relies on strong backcourt play, Baylor uses its backcourt youth to initiate the offense.
One of Morris’ strengths comes in transition and pushing the ball up the court as quickly as possible.
“She’s awesome at that. She’s super quick, so we have to go and get out in front of the ball, so she makes us get in full sprint and does a great job pushing it,” Cohen said. “We have to run and gun it. We can’t play conservative, we don’t have time to.”
But when Baylor does settle down into its half-court sets, it relies on one of the best frontcourts in the country in Brown and Cox, who combine for 35 points and 20 rebounds per game. The pair has played even better in the NCAA Tournament. Cox had a career-high 30 points and 17 rebounds while Brown had 22 and 15 against Grambling State. Cox followed that performance with an 18 point, 16 rebound performance against Michigan, while Brown had 16 points and eight boards.
Brown and Wallace were the only two Lady Bears who played against Oregon State in the 2016 Elite Eight. Brown had 12 points and six rebounds in 19 minutes while Wallace had four points in 18 minutes in Baylor’s 60-57 loss.
No. 2 Baylor (33-1) and No. 6 Oregon State (25-7) will tipoff at 6 p.m. (CT) Friday from Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., in the first regional semifinal. No. 1 Louisville will take on No. 4 Stanford at 9 p.m.