By Parmida Schahhosseini
The No. 1 Baylor Lady Bears (16-1, 6-0 Big 12) have picked up where they left off last year as they continue to roll through their competition on their quest to repeat as national champions.
Head coach Kim Mulkey, who stresses defense, has her unit playing well as they allowed only one team to shoot over 50 percent from the field all season. They are also 6-1 against ranked opponents, which puts their competitive play on display.
The Lady Bears hope to continue their streak of consecutive conference as they try to win their 29th game against No. 24 Iowa State at 7 p.m. tonight at the Hilton Coliseum at Ames, Iowa.
Baylor did have a little bit of a hiccup as they lost to No. 4 Stanford Cardinals, 71-69 on Nov. 16. While it was a loss, the Bears learned from it and realized that the road to a championship will not be easy.
During the Stanford game, Baylor allowed its opponent to shoot over 50 percent, breaking their streak of 217 games without allowing a team to shoot 50 percent or more.
“You don’t ever want to lose. You’re in Hawaii; you’re not under the normal circumstances of a regular practice schedule. You’re enjoying the beach and not having as much time to prepare,” Mulkey said. “We played Kentucky and had a quick turnaround to come here. It’s a great schedule for us to prepare for another national championship.”
The Lady Bears did come back and played for a 73-61 win against No. 5 Notre Dame. The Lady Bears’ defense frustrated Notre Dame star Skylar Diggins as she was 4-of-19 shooting. Griner, on the other hand, had 24 points, 14 rebounds, and three blocks.
“Last year, I guess I started getting even more patient,” senior center Brittney Griner said after the win against Notre Dame. “I couldn’t get my hands on the ball, keep moving. Whatever I can do, I will do. I took it a play at a time; post up strong when I had to. Did whatever I could to help my team out.”
Griner, who was named Big 12 Player of the Week on Jan. 21, is gearing up for another productive year.
Griner currently has 2,796 career points and is 40 points away from breaking the scoring record in the Big 12.
She also has 651 blocked shots and is 13 blocks away from an NCAA record.
Griner is not the only reason the team is winning. Under Mulkey, the Lady Bears have been playing unselfish basketball.
Their team chemistry allows their game to flow.
Junior point guard Odyssey Sims averages 12.5 points per game and is leading the team with 5.2 assists per game.
Senior forward Brooklyn Pope is also having a breakout season as she averages 11.4 points per game.
On the defensive side, the numbers of senior guard Jordan Madden continue to improve.
Four Lady Bears rank among the Big 12’s top 10 in field goal percentage with Griner’s 59.8 percent at No. 1, senior guard Jordan Madden at 57.7 percent at No. 2, Pope at 56.4 percent at No. 5, and senior forward Destiny Williams at 55 percent at No. 7.
The Lady Bears have won 14 straight games after the loss to Stanford.
They have been playing at a high level.
The Lady Bears lead the Big 12 in scoring offense at 82.1 points per game, field goal percentage at 50.8 percent, blocked shots at 5.8 blocks per game and a rebound margin at +11.4.
Baylor has been playing harddefense. Opposing teams also have to worry about Baylor’s third ranked offense.
There have been multiple games where several plays score in double digits and several games where they have one or more player with a double-double.
Mulkey teaches her players great work ethic and teamwork. It is one thing to have talent on the team, but without a coach putting them in positions for them to succeed, they would probably end up like the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Lady Bears have team chemistry, which keeps their offense flowing, but it also allows them to transition better from offense to defense and vise versa.
Currently Baylor is on a 49 home game win streak, the longest in the country.
The team has been competitive in every conference game winning all six so far.
Whether their opponents were ranked or unranked, the Lady Bears win in convincing fashion. Their closest game a 76-58 win against a very physical West Virginia on Saturday.
While the West Virginia defense gave the Lady Bears problems, a big 20-5 lead in the early first half was enough for them to sustain the lead.
“We went over in the scouting report how physical and how hard they were going to play,” Sims said.
The defensive problems led to the Bears to have 19 turnovers, which is a season high.
The Bears did enough to win the game, but they expected to do better.
They have high hopes for the season and very high expectations after their 40-0 run to the National Championship.