Nina Davis’ versatility sets the tone for Lady Bears

Sophomore forward Nina Davis goes up for a layup during Baylor's 79-47 win over the Cyclones on Tuesday. Davis leads the No. 3 Lady Bears with 21.9 points and 8.5 rebounds.
Sophomore forward Nina Davis goes up for a layup during Baylor’s 79-47 win over the Cyclones on Tuesday. Davis leads the No. 3 Lady Bears with 21.9 points and 8.5 rebounds.

By Jeffrey Swindoll
Sports Writer

The No. 3 Lady Bears are a mixed bag of talent with many different styles, strengths and weaknesses in each player. In the past, the Lady Bears could rely on the heroics of players like Brittney Griner and Odyssey Sims to carry Baylor to win many Big 12 conference titles. This season, sophomore forward Nina Davis fits into a different spot than the flashy, starpower role that Griner and Sims filled.

Griner was long and strong. Sims was quick and vicious. But what about Davis? She can’t dunk like Griner and she certainly can’t shoot like Sims.

Rather than a team be tailored to accentuate Davis’ pros and hide her cons as Griner and Sims had it, Davis’ role changes from game to game. Sometimes she has to be big on post-play in the halfcourt offense. At other times she can serve as more of a wing player. It’s different combination with the rest of the lineup every game.

“Other than [Davis and Niya Johnson], my lineup can change on a consistent basis,” head coach Kim Mulkey said.

Davis is just one of two players guaranteed in the lineup night after night. She is important to the team, but the way she affects the game changes as much as the starting five she is in. Because of that, Davis is having to constantly change from her comfort zone. Davis said at the beginning of the season, she felt most comfortable doing what put her on the map as one of the top freshmen in the country last season.

“I’d have to say I’m more comfortable underneath the basket,” Davis said. “So it’s pretty much where I’ve learned how to, you know, play, move, know where to be, where the ball’s coming and stuff like that.”

She likes getting up-and-at-’em in the paint, but even that is sometimes compromised for the sake of the team. Davis is quick, but she’s not the fastest. Her defense is tenacious, but she’s not a shut-down defender. Her shooting gets the job done, but it is by no means pretty. Through and through, Davis’ greatest gift comes from within – desire.

Mulkey is constantly challenging her team to be the team with the most hustle. Especially in Davis’ case, listed as 5’11” and, therefore, severely undersized at her position, she does not have the luxury of getting to be lazy when she wants. Mulkey can always count on Davis to adjust to the opponent and situation she is facing.

Sometimes she has rough starts to games. The difference is, Davis has much less pressure on her than what Griner and Sims had. The weight of the Lady Bears fell on each of those players’ shoulders because so much of the game strategy revolved around them. The Lady Bears this season are a different team because it doesn’t put the pressure on one player to make big plays.

“Sometimes I kind of have the tendency to get stagnant out there and kind of watch the game go on,” Davis said. “But I have to remember that my team needs me. So that makes me want to come out with a more aggressive mindset.”

Davis is surrounded by players with just about as much skill and talent as her. While Davis is bandaging up and fixing her game performance, the rest of the Lady Bears are still carrying the weight. When she is in her groove, she is one of the hardest players to guard in the country. After scoring 25 points against the Longhorns Monday night, Davis proved just that.

Every point was earned when the Longhorns were playing high on offense, Davis was ready to beat them on the fast break. When the Longhorns parked it in the Lady Bears’ half-court offense, Davis worked some magic with her driving abilities. When Mulkey needed Davis to play big against Texas’ giant front-court, she did what she had to do to win. Davis knows that sometimes the road to victory is different than the last season, game or even the last play.