By Jeffrey Swindoll
Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey has treated the beginning portion of her season as trial run for most of her players. Veterans like sophomore forward Nina Davis, junior guard Niya Johnson, junior post Kristina Higgins, senior guard Alexis Prince and senior post Sune Agbuke are all mainstays in Mulkey’s main rotation. But, for the new players this season, Mulkey has said she is not quite sure how she plans to use each one of them.
The season keeps moving though, even for the No. 11 Lady Bears who are searching for an identity at the moment. Their next challenge, and second road game of the season, tips off at 2 p.m. on Sunday against Ole Miss in Oxford, Miss. While the students in Waco are taking in the College Gameday experience, the Lady Bears will have nothing but business in mind. There is no time to play around because of the limited amount of games in the pre-conference season.
“I looked at the schedule a minute ago after lunch, and I was like, Gosh, seven games is what we have this month,” Mulkey said. “I want more. Does that make sense? I feel like I need more. I need more game time, I need more practice time, because we just need it, but we are limited on how many we can play prior to conference starting. And then we take the Christmas break.”
Davis, without a doubt, the front-runner for the team’s MVP this season, has played multiple roles for Mulkey this season, as opposed to last season, where her role stayed relatively consistent throughout the latter portion of the season.
This season, Davis is up to the high standard she set for herself last season as Big 12 Newcomer of the Year. She is the team’s leading scorer and is nuisance for defenses, night-in-night-out. Against UT-Pan American Wednesday night, Davis scored 31 points, just one point shy of her career record.
“She’s been starting at the three for us until we can get Kristy back and I can get a rotation like I have it,” Mulkey said. “So, [against UTPA] she was more at the four than she was at the three and she was back in her comfort zone.”
Mulkey is putting more responsibility on Davis’ shoulders, especially now with one of Baylor’s starting guards, freshman Kristy Wallace, out of the lineup for one more game. Wallace is on national team duty with Australia’s under 19 women’s national basketball team to train for the 2015 FIBA Under 19 World Championship.
“As far as the three goes, if my team needs there, I’ll do anything to help the team,” Davis said. “It’s different out there, but whatever the team needs, I’m willing to do.”
Johnson, who Mulkey calls the Lady Bears’ “quarterback,” returned to play for Baylor on Wednesday night after a one game absence, nursing an injury. Mulkey said the way her team plays without Johnson on the floor is clearly different from the way they flow with her on the court. Johnson being out forces Mulkey to play some of her players out of position, which presents a problem in itself. Notably, sophomore forward Ieshia Small has had to play more point guard while Wallace is with her Australian team and Johnson is off the court for whatever reason.
“When you don’t have your quarterback, everybody’s got to do a little bit more, and you’re probably not comfortable playing out of position,” Ieshia is truly a wing player, but she can handle the ball, and I thought she and Imani both did good when I didn’t have Niya. But when you’ve got your point guard and your quarterback back out on the floor, there’s a comfort level there.”
With Johnson on the court, Baylor’s offense is as clean with the ball as anyone. Against UTPA, Johnson dished out 10 assists without committing a single turnover. Johnson had to overcome being one game removed from the Lady Bears, as well as her injury pain which caused her to be out in the first place.
“I was just trying to get my groove back [against UTPA] from the game I missed,” Johnson said. “I just can’t worry about the injury. I just have to go out there and play. If I worry about the injury I’m not going to be able to go out there and play.”
Ole Miss (6-2) are coming off of a 98-69 spanking given to them by Western Kentucky on Thursday night. The Lady Rebels will be licking their wounds against the Lady Bears on Sunday. Ole Miss is led by Klara Golden and Shequila Joseph who were the only two to score in double digits against Western Kentucky.