By Krista Pirtle
You’ve heard it said that defense wins championships. Defense has become the backbone of the No.1 Baylor Lady Bears’ unfinished business and quest for Denver, Colo.
With 6-foot-8-inch junior Brittney Griner, it is easy to overlook this side of the court.
Since March 25, 2006, the Lady Bears have not allowed an opponent to shoot over 50 percent from the floor.
“We just go out there and do what she asks us to do: get in passing lanes, don’t let the wings get the ball and play better defense,” junior Jordan Madden said.
Head coach Kim Mulkey agrees, especially after the win at St. John’s.
“How many games are you going to get outrebounded as much as we did, particularly on the offensive end, and win?” Mulkey said. “By playing good defense. We still are holding our opponents to under 40 percent. So, our challenge is you better keep playing great defense, and I thought we did. We still have a little hunger inside from the way our season ended last year.”
On offense, the identity for Baylor is obvious: post touches.
When the guards penetrate the defense, the double team is usually softened around Griner, allowing the entry pass and an opportunity to score in favor of Griner.
This point was seen when Baylor hosted Connecticut in December.
The Lady Bears found themselves down 11, but then pulled things together to regain the lead and take the victory.
“On offense we had to get the ball inside,” sophomore Odyssey Sims said. “When we started out we didn’t give Brittney the ball enough and that became our main focus, to just get her the ball.”
Sims also offers offensive power.
“The key to the game that we said going in to this was that Odyssey Sims is going to decide this game, and she did,” Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma said. “Brittney’s going to get what Brittney’s going to get every night. I think it was some of Odyssey Sims’s plays at the end of the game that made a difference.”
One major thing the Lady Bears have been working on since the season began is rebounding.
In the Big 12, Baylor is No. 4 for offensive rebounds while leading for defensive boards.
“It’s my job as a coach because we’re so athletic and we’re so tall we think we’re just going to go in there and out jump people,” Mulkey said. “Well, at this level you better understand there are other teams that have athletes who can out jump you, and I’ve got to do a better job in just pounding it in their head about blocking out, just about blocking out because offensive rebounding is nothing but effort.”
With Big 12 play underway, the Lady Bears are focused with their eyes on Denver.
While the conference offers tough competition, the Lady Bears’ top opponent is their own complacency.
“It’s going to be brutal,” Mulkey said about Big 12 play. “We’re going to have to work on blocking out and execution. We have got to execute better.”
Last season, the youth of the team was the common definer of the Lady Bears.
This season is a different story.
“All coaches think that their players are the best, but I truly believe that I am getting to coach the best point guard in the country and the best center in the country,” Mulkey said.