By Jeffrey Swindoll
An impressive 16-game winning streak and a perfect record in the Big 12 is on the line for No. 3 Baylor at 11 a.m. tomorrow against Kansas State at the Ferrell Center.
The Lady Bears (17-1, 6-0) have a perfect 11-0 record at home this season, three of which were conference games. Baylor’s latest result sent a resounding message to the rest of the conference that the Lady Bears, led by head coach Kim Mulkey and stud sophomore forward Nina Davis, mean business. Baylor trounced No. 8 Texas 75-58 at the Ferrell Center on Monday. The team that was predicted to have an average season in the conference is now tied for the lead with an undefeated Big 12 record.
“It was just outstanding the way my teammates and I kept fighting to the very end,” Davis said after the Texas game. “[Texas] had a huge advantage over us, but size does not really matter when you have heart and we just grinded from the beginning to the end.”
Kansas State (11-6, 1-5) and Baylor met just over two weeks ago in Manhattan, Kan., and it was not pretty. The Lady Bears destroyed the Wildcats 74-44. The odds are stacked quite high against the Wildcats for their second game against the Lady Bears. Baylor can beat teams on the dribble, on the glass, from the perimeter…you name it, and the Lady Bears could probably run it. In their first meeting this year, the Lady Bears were successful with perimeter shooting against the Wildcats.
“When you play against a zone that is good, and [Kansas State head coach Jeff Mittie’s] zone defense is very good, they cut off angles,” Mulkey said. “They lead the conference in steals playing a zone, so that tells you that it is outstanding. You are going to have to knock down some perimeter shots.”
Perhaps the one blemish on Baylor’s convincing win over Texas on Monday was their poor night of three-point shooting. The Lady Bears did not make a single basket from three-point range (0-8).
Junior guard Niya Johnson is having a phenomenal season as a distributor. She exemplified her talent last season with an outstanding feel for the game, finding spaces for her teammates on a dime. This season, Johnson is being tested a scorer as much as she is tested as a passer. Texas dared Johnson to shoot by leaving her open and she took advantage of that chance.
“Kansas did the same thing by leaving me open and I knew I had to hit the shot, because they were leaving me open,” Johnson said. “We spread the offense and our team likes to get open shots, so me shooting the ball was to spread the offense and we got more open shots.”
Johnson has seven double-digit scoring games in her collegiate career and three of those have come this season. Her total assists on the year currently sit at 147, more than four times the amount of any other player for the Lady Bears. Johnson is critical to Baylor’s attack. If the Wildcats keep her to a quiet night, K-State may just have a chance.
The Wildcats have a young team this season. Just three players on their roster have played more than 75 career games and none have played more than 100 games. They are a much improved side from last season, though. Kansas State is just one win away from surpassing its conference wins total from the 2013-14 season.
Senior forward Ashia Woods and sophomore forward Breanna Lewis are the driving force for the Wildcats. Woods is the leading rebounder of the team with 6.7 per game. Woods also averages 8.6 points per game. Lewis is the team’s leading scorer 11.9 points per game with a 49.4 percent field goal success rate.
The Lady Bears have proven this season that stopping just one of their players is not good enough for a victory. Only one team has beaten Baylor this season – Kentucky. That was a different Lady Bears team, and they have a chance to prove that fact on Saturday against Kansas State at home.