By Krista Pirtle
The defending national champions and No. 1 Baylor Lady Bears are 1-3 when playing in the State Farm Tip-Off Classic.
The Lady Bears will unveil a trio of banners: the Big 12 season championhip, the Big 12 tournament championship and the national championship.
After that blast from the recent past, the Baylor crowd will provide a loud environment for its Lady Bears.
Baylor will host No. 6 Kentucky, fresh off an Elite Eight season last year.
“I just know that it’s going to be a heck of a basketball game early in the season,” head coach Kim Mulkey said. “Now, when I say heck of a basketball game, I don’t mean it’s going to be pretty. When you’ve got a team that presses and a team that’s talented (Kentucky), and you’ve got a team who’s the defending national champion (Baylor), they’re both going to be playing hard.”
The Wildcats return the SEC Player of the Year, senior guard A’Dia Mathies.
In Kentucky’s victory over Delaware State to open its season on Saturday, Kentucky ran out to a 90-50 lead.
Mathies led her team with 16 points, six assists, four rebounds and four steals.
One thing synonymous with this Kentucky team is its ability to apply full-court pressure for the entire 40 minutes.
The question for Baylor is the ability of the other guards to handle it when junior point guard Odyssey Sims is denied the ball.
The Wildcats scored 53 points off 32 Delaware State turnovers, and their plus-9 turnover margin fell right in line with the style of play sixth-year coach Matthew Mitchell has installed. Last season they were second in the country with a 9.29 turnover margin.
Stopping Baylor is a tall order for Mitchell, an order around 6-foot-8-inches.
But senior post Brittney Griner is not alone with the rest of the starters from last year returning as well.
“I have no one to call who had any success against them last year,” Mitchell said. “They went 40-0, so I can’t call anyone to ask how to beat them.”
Last season, Mulkey said she didn’t care if her team went undefeated and won 40 games; it wasn’t one of their goals.
“Certainly you want to win a conference championship,” Mulkey said. “You want to win a conference tournament championship. And then you want to win the national championship. Nowhere in there will we ever talk about win streak. It’s not in the notebook anywhere. It’ll be on the champion rings, and that’s the extent of when they’ll see it.”
Baylor secured the No. 1 spot again this week after routing Lamar 80-34.
Griner led the Lady Bears with 24 points in just 18 minutes and almost dunked it in the beginning of the second half.
She ran the pipe ahead of the defense and received a pass from junior point guard Odyssey Sims.
Everyone in the Ferrell Center thought she was going to throw it down, but she did a finger roll.
“I was thinking ‘Oh man, I’m fixing to dunk this,’” Griner said. “I sprinted down the court, and my legs said, ‘No. So I got the two points. I mean I laid it up pretty.’”
The Lady Bears held Lamar to only nine points in the second half and scored 31 points off of 28 Lady Cardinal turnovers.
“Honestly, there’s a lot of rust there,” Mulkey said. “The effort was there, but there were a lot of mental mistakes, shot clock violations. My disappointment always comes with the older players. I thought there was some selfish basketball out there, bad shots taken and no ball reversal. Those aren’t effort, those are a mental mindset and come Tuesday night they better erase what happened today.”
The turnaround is quick and the competition is much fiercer when Kentucky comes to the Ferrell today.