Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey enters her 15th season as head coach of the Lady Bears with a different challenge than her previous two seasons – she does not necessarily have an all-star like Brittney Griner or Odyssey Sims leading her team.
The No. 8 Lady Bears tip off their season today against Oral Roberts University
The Lady Bears took care of business in their two preseason exhibition games, but there are lingering questions for Mulkey’s team. Most of all, who is going to score for Baylor now? The Lady Bears have a chance at answering that question, or at least giving Mulkey a better picture of that answer, tonight.
“Our schedule, unfortunately, doesn’t allow me probably to mix and mingle and try to figure it all out because you’re trying to win first of all,” Mulkey said. “But I do think that this team is very talented. I think they’re an enjoyable bunch to be around. And they just need to play. They have experience, but they’re still young. The more they play, the better they’ll get.
Mulkey has won four straight Big 12 regular season and tournament titles, all of which with star players coming in and out of the program. Overall, the Lady Bears have been successful, even after losing players like Griner to the WNBA.
After 16 seasons as the assistant coach, Misti Cussen begins her third season as the head coach of the Golden Eagles, with a 27-33 in her career at ORU.
Like the Lady Bears, the Oral Roberts University Golden Eagles went 2-0 in the preseason. For many, Oral Roberts is an unfamiliar opponent. However, Mulkey recognizes a player on Oral Roberts’ roster the she previously coached against during Griner’s career at Baylor. Oral Roberts senior post Vicky McIntyre formerly played at Oklahoma State.
“I just remember that [McIntyre] went head-to-head with Griner, and she has the size to alter your shot,” Mulkey said. “I was surprised that she left there, because she played a lot at Oklahoma State. I don’t know why she left, but she’s something that we’re going to have to deal with [tonight] because she’s going to alter shots. And when you’re that tall, you should.”
In ORU’s two exhibition games, McIntyre totalled 18 points and 24 rebounds against East Central University, and 14 points and 16 rebounds against Rockhurst.
“[Junior post Kristina Higgins] will be the one having to guard [McIntyre], but she’ll get a lot of help,” Mulkey said of the 6-foot-5 post. “I think on the offensive end for her, we can’t shy away from her. We’ve got to take it right in there to her. And she’s supposed to block shots when you’re that tall.”
Higgins accumulated 13 rebounds and 21 points in 45 minutes of playing time the Lady Bears’ two exhibition games.
With Sims no longer part of the team, junior guard Niya Johnson has more responsibility on her shoulders as the leader of the Lady Bears’ offense. Last season, Johnson was the nation’s best in assist-turnover ratio. Though a natural passer, Mulkey expects Johnson to have a bigger role as one of the team’s top-scorers on a consistent basis this season.
“I’m still trying to adjust to [more of a scoring role], just taking it slowly,” Johnson said. “I have to think not always pass-first, but shoot as well. And just think offense first, just score.”
Johnson led the way with seven points and 14 assists in the Lady Bears’ second exhibition game against Tarleton State.
Alongside Johnson, sophomore forward Nina Davis has a bigger role to her team this season. Sims did most of the work in terms of volume last season, allowing Davis to have more of an under-the-radar effect on the game. Davis was the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year and was named all-Big 12 first team last season. She is the team’s leading returning scorer from last season. Davis shot 12-13 from the field in the Lady Bears’ second exhibition game, scoring 28 points in 21 minutes of play.
“Once you play a year, people learn your game,” Davis said. “That’s like anybody on any level. Once you have film, you learn what they do. That’s pretty much what I was doing in the offseason is preparing for people knowing my game this year.”
From a coaching standpoint, Mulkey is excited to see which of her players are going to step up this year. Mulkey said the Lady Bears, as a whole, need many players to accept more responsibility, perhaps more so than any other year.
“I’m ready to see who separates themselves,” Mulkey said. “You can certainly tell a lot in practice, but sometimes in practice we allow a lot of fouling to take place and we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. So I’m looking forward to it.”
The Lady Bears begin their 2014-15 season at 6:05 p.m. today at the Ferrell Center. The Lady Bears will reveal their 2014 Elite Eight banner before the game.