By Krista Pirtle
The No. 1 Lady Bears basketball team returns to the hardwood with what it lacked most last season: experience.
This season, with only two sophomores, one freshman and the rest upperclassmen, possibilities of a championship look promising.
The one thing lost for the team, however, is the leadership and “glue” that Melissa Jones brought to the team.
“What made Melissa so special was she may not have been the most talented player we had, but she was the most intense competitor,” head coach Kim Mulkey said. “She knew how to say the right thing, do the right thing, dive for the loose ball, make the free throw, hit the big bucket and somebody or somebodies will evolve and be that player.”
The Lady Bears return sophomore point guard Odyssey Sims. Her knee is fully healed, allowing her more minutes and a higher level of intensity, especially outside the arch.
Alongside her are juniors Kimetria Hayden and Jordan Madden, whose quickness on both offense and defense is threatening to opposing teams.
Senior Lindsay Palmer and sophomore Makenzie Robertson step in to hit 3-pointers for Baylor. These two are not known for their penetration but their knowledge of the offense and good ball handling is needed for the offensive sets.
Junior Brooklyn Pope straddles the 3-point line, playing the three and four position well.
Her physicality in the paint and her drives from the outside add options for the offense.
In the paint, the Bears return three and add one.
Senior Ashley Field brings hustle on both ends of the court.
Junior Destiny Williams provides a good complement to junior Brittney Griner.
“Post players have to communicate,” Williams said.
Looks from block-to-block and elbow-to-block will be the advantage of the inside game for Baylor.
Baylor fans know about Griner and her recent play in Italy with the U.S. national team. What people may not know is she is still growing as a player, learning how to use her body down low.
“I’m just going up strong and doing strong and smart moves,” Griner said. “I definitely feel stronger.”
Freshman Sune Agbuke brings a persona that draws in fans and has a great chance to succeed under a coach like Mulkey.
After sweeping the pair of exhibition games, the Lady Bears open up their season with the preseason Women’s National Invitational Tournament instead of regular games.
“It’s a little nerve racking because you don’t really have film,” Mulkey said. “You can’t use last year’s film. There are new players and new coaches. There’s only so much you can do to prepare this early.”
Despite the uncertainties, Mulkey has prepared the team to host the preseason WNIT, consisting of: Akron, Chattanooga, Detroit, Drexel, ETSU, Hartford, Howard, Indiana State, Long Island, Manhattan, McNeese State, Notre Dame, Tennessee Tech, UAB and UCLA.
Baylor’s first opponent is Howard, who finished runner-up at the MEAC championships and returns conference Player of the Year Saadia Doyle.
Last season the Bison went 16-18 and return all their starters for the 2011-2012 season.
“I know they got the player of the year back and have a lot of returning starters,” Mulkey said. “I know their record, but truthfully none of that matters. Truthfully, we’ve got to go out there and be Baylor and defend like we always defend and execute and get better.”
The Lady Bears tip off at 6:30 p.m. today in the Ferrell Center.