By Krista Pirtle
With a national championship last season, the No. 1 Baylor Lady Bears take the hardwood at noon today, defending both their title and the basket.
“They got everybody’s best shot last year because they were No. 1, and they were undefeated,” head coach Kim Mulkey said. “But now they’re going to get everyone’s best shot because they’re the defending national champions.”
Tipping off the Lady Bears’ season is Lamar, coached by Larry Tidwell, former assistant coach for Baylor from 1992 to 1998.
Leading the Lady Cardinals is senior guard Kalis Loyd, who averaged 16.1 points per game and 6.4 rebounds per game.
The big question for Baylor with its 40-0 game win streak is, how can it improve?
“I think Brittney [Griner] understands that there’s still parts of her game that she hasn’t even thought about how good she can be,” Mulkey said.
“I just think an offensive rebounding presence, that would scare me. Brittney’s intimidating enough but if you were trying to block a Brittney Griner out when she’s flying to the offensive boards, who can do that? There’s a reason for that, most of the shots we shoot go through her and she’s at 62 percent form the field last year so there’s not a lot of misses but when she is in a position to fly in there and get put-backs and tip-backs and things like that. You can’t block somebody like her out.”
With a pair of AP All-Americans in green and gold, senior post Brittney Griner and junior point guard Odyssey Sims, senior guards Jordan Madden and Kimetria “Nae Nae” Hayden tend to be left uncovered for a double team on Griner.
“The first people they’re going to not guard are Nae Nae and Jordan,” Mulkey said. “I thought we’ve prepared them, we go over it every day in practice, them not being guarded, what they could possibly see and I thought they responded well.”
Another position that is quickly abandoned by the opposing defense when Griner gets the rock on the block is the forward. Seniors Destiny Williams and Brooklyn Pope are then open for a quick pass for the easy bucket.
“Sometimes, because Brittney is so good and Odyssey is so good, you don’t realize that Destiny Williams and Brooklyn Pope are going to be draft picks,” Mulkey said. “They’re good. Their confidence last year just started soaring out of the roof when they were challenged individually. And when they were challenged individually, they responded and it made us just so dangerous.”
Mulkey gave the freshmen adequate time on the floor during Baylor’s two exhibition games.
Freshman guard and McDonald’s All-American Alexis Prince has yet to see the floor due to a stress reaction.
“She’s trying to be patient,” Mulkey said. “It’s a stress reaction. It’s not a fracture. She’s had the same injury in high school before. We think it’s the mechanics of how she walks, and it’s putting pressure on this certain area in her foot.”
Fellow freshmen guards Chardonae Fuqua’ and McDonald’s All-American Niya Johnson have learned as much from the players as from Mulkey.
“They fit in very well,” Sims said. “Their main thing is trying to get them in shape. In practice, we’ve been helping them a lot and kind of been distracted, not really helping ourselves.”
The lone post of the group, Kristina Higgins, has gone up against Griner during practice.
“She can score,” Williams said. “She finished a couple shots around Brittney, which is pretty impressive. Brittney stays in her ear to help her out defensively and offensively. She’s just learning from everybody in all different ways.”
Mulkey predicts little change from the previous match-up between the two teams.
The Lady Cardinals ran a three-two zone against Baylor back on Nov. 29, 2009, at the World Vision Classic in Waco.
The Lady Bears claimed an 87-65 win over Lamar. Griner, who was a freshman, had a then-career high of 26 points to go along with 12 rebounds and eight blocks.
“No one’s going to invent a new defense that we haven’t seen,” Mulkey said. “Now that doesn’t mean that we’re always going to be good, it doesn’t mean were going to knock down shots, it doesn’t mean we’re not going to get beat sometimes, but we’re going to be prepared.”
By Greg DeVries
The No. 18 men’s basketball team will have a tough season opener against the Lehigh Mountain Hawks at 4 p.m. today at the Ferrell Center.
“It’s what we’ve been on all year,” senior guard A.J. Walton said. “We’re going to leave it all out there on the floor.”
Lehigh is returning four starters from last season’s team that upset the Duke Blue Devils in the NCAA Tournament.
The Mountain Hawks eventually fell to Xavier by a score of 58-70. Baylor beat Xavier in the next round 75-70.
Lehigh finished its 2011-2012 campaign with an overall record of 27-8.
This year, they return four of last year’s starters. These players were Lehigh’s top four scorers and averaged more minutes than anyone else on their team.
“It’s one thing to face a team that beat Duke last year and had a chance to beat Xavier, but it’s another thing to play that team that returns its top four scorers,” head coach Scott Drew said. “This is a veteran team, a lot of juniors and seniors. They know how to play with one another and they know what it takes to be successful.”
One of these players is senior guard C.J. McCollum.
McCollum averaged nearly 22 points per game last year and led the team in rebounding, despite being just 6-feet-3-inches tall, with 6.5 boards per game.
“C.J. McCollum is a future pro,” senior guard Pierre Jackson said. “We probably have one of the best backcourts in the country if not the best. I think we’re up for the challenge. We’ll show Baylor what we’re capable of.”
As for defending McCollum, the Bears will switch off between a combination of sophomore guard Deuce Bello and Walton.
“[Deuce] can play defense too,” Walton said. “We’re probably going to switch out. I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be a good game.”
Offensively, the Bears and the Mountain Hawks are similar.
Both teams are led by a strong guard that controls tempo. Jackson and McCollum are both quick guards that excel in transition.
Another returning starter is senior forward Gabe Knutson.
Knutson averaged better than 12 points and 5 rebounds per game and is the biggest post player that the Mountain Hawks have.
With freshman center Isaiah Austin and senior center J’mison Morgan in the middle, Baylor will have the size advantage in the middle, but Lehigh gets the nod in experience.
“In the back of our heads, we know that if somebody happens to get past us, we know that they have to deal with Isaiah Austin down there,” Jackson said. “Hopefully Isaiah won’t have to block any shots because we’re not going to let anybody get past us.”
Since the Oct. 12 exhibition victory, 103-75, over Abilene Christian, Drew has been focused on helping the five freshmen learn the system and gel with the team.
“From a coaching standpoint, we’ve had to be more patient this year than we’ve had to in awhile because we haven’t had this big a freshman group in some time,” Drew said. “We’ve enjoyed how hard they’ve worked.”