By Parmida Schahhosseini
It’s a new look for the No. 9 Baylor Lady Bears, without a 6-foot-8-inch center barricading the paint. One thing remains consistent for the Bears and that is heavy guard play. It’s not a surprise that head coach Kim Mulkey stresses exceptional guard play because she played the position in college.
At Louisiana Tech, Mulkey led her team to a 130-6 record, two national titles and four final four appearances. She averaged 6.38 assists to hold the second-most all-time assist record.
Mulkey has translated her play to effective coaching that helps her guards to thrive in her system. This year, Baylor is even more guard heavy because of the small lineup and the speed of the team.
The ability of the team to press and run has been an advantage all season long and other teams have had trouble keeping up. This allows the Lady Bears to go on lengthy runs as the intensity of the defense follows. Baylor thrives off the fast- paced game because it’s able to force the opponent into mistakes and use its athleticism to take over the game. Baylor’s opponents have turned the ball over 11 more times a game than the Lady Bears. The guard’s ability to setup plays quickly and create shots for others has been a strength.
“We’re guard heavy and anytime we can get out and run, it’s just exciting to watch and just to be out there,“ senior guard Odyssey Sims said. “You’re creating opportunities for another teammate. It’s just exciting and a lot of fun. The style of play, anytime we can go out and run we take advantage of it.”
With senior guard Odyssey Sims and sophomore guard Niya Johnson dictating the pace of the game, the offense lives or dies by the play of the guards. Against San Jose State, Johnson had a career-high 14 assists with Sims adding 13, to surpass Angela Tisdale’s all-time Baylor assist record of 493. Sims holds the record at 505 and will look to add more to that total with 23 regular season games to play.
“Odyssey is great,“ senior guard Makenzie Robertson said. “If you’re open she will get you the ball. Even if you don’t think you’re open, she’ll get you the ball. Niya is the same way. They’re both doing a great job of finding the open player.”
Sims’ ability to split defenses forces multiple players to guard her, which opens up the floor for teammates. Johnson and Sims combine to average of 3.1 turnovers and 12.4 assists per game.
“That’s what you’re supposed to do,” Mulkey said “When you have the ball in your hands that much, you have to distribute it and you have to make shots easier for your teammates.”
Mulkey has emphasized the importance of post touches this season because when opponents are too busy trying to defend the guards, the post players are usually left open. Junior post Sune Agbuke and sophomore post Kristina Higgins have been active on the boards, which has led to Baylor outrebounding opponents by 16.5 a game. This has led to second chance points, putting more pressure on the other team.
The Bears have shot 31.6 percent from beyond the arc. The forwards also have become the beneficiaries as the guards set up effective screens, giving them open looks. Freshman forward Nina Davis has taken advantage by scoring in double-digits in her first seven collegiate games. Sophomore forward Chardonae Fuqua’ is becoming a factor at the four spot.
Senior guard Makenzie Robertson has seen the ball more, but Mulkey encourages her to continue shooting. This team can only go as far as Sims and Johnson can take them, but with their dominant play, Baylor’s offense has yet to slow down.