By Jeffrey Swindoll
The final gauntlet of Big 12 regular season basketball lies ahead for the No. 3 Lady Bears.
Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey finds herself with an extremely young, yet somehow effective team that has played its way to a perfect 9-0 record in conference, one loss in the entire season and an active winning streak of 19 games.
However, there are plenty of opportunities remaining along the way to slip up. The Lady Bears put their immaculate season on the line at 7 p.m. today against Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Okla., at Gallagher-Iba Arena.
“I expect it to be tough game,” Mulkey said. “I expect all of [the remaining games] to be tough because we’re done with the first half. There’s no tomorrow really. You’ve got nine basketball games left. Everybody’s trying to get to the playoffs and win this thing. While we have a two-game lead, [there is] too much basketball to be played to get comfortable.”
OSU’s arena is known to be a hostile environment, forcing every team to earn every inch of whatever result they manage to scratch. Oklahoma State looks to snap a two-game losing streak at home. The Lady Bears have won four straight games in Stillwater.
“Going there last year was really difficult for us to come out of there with a win,” senior post Sune Agbuke said. “We’re going to have to be incredibly focused on our scouting report and the things that they did really well. We have to keep that under control. They have good crowd and kind of the way that the arena is, kind of how they’re sitting on you makes it a tough place to play.”
Mulkey said Oklahoma State presents no surprises for this second meeting between the two teams this season. However, last time the Lady Bears played the Cowgirls, it took some digging to get the answer to Oklahoma State’s game-plan.
Mulkey prepared her team for a lot of zone play from the Cowgirls, but that turned out to be different than what they saw in the first game against Oklahoma State.
“I think with [Oklahoma State] what we’re going to be concerned with is make sure we attack their man defense as well as their zone,” Mulkey said. “The last time we played them, we prepared as if they were going to play a lot of zone. If you watch in the film now, they’re playing as much, if not more, man than they are zone. We’ve got to make sure we’re prepared for that.”
Mulkey has prepared her squad well this season, advancing the Lady Bears as an effective team on both sides of the ball. The Lady Bears lead the conference in scoring offense, field-goal percentage, field-goal percentage defense, 3-point field-goal percentage defense, rebounding margin and turnover margin.
The Lady Bears’ last outing, against Kansas, was not a favorable performance in the rebounding department. Baylor prides itself in consistently winning the rebound battle, but the first game against Oklahoma State did not turn out in Baylor’s favor. Rebounds and turnovers are critical in Mulkey’s pregame points to her team on road games.
“We’ve to make sure we compete on the boards,” Mulkey said. “They rebound the ball pretty well. Against Kansas, we didn’t win the rebounding. We tied. If you go back and look at the stat-sheet against Oklahoma State [at the Ferrell Center] they outrebounded us and that’s a concern.”
OSU’s big-time players are junior guard Brittney Martin and senior forward Liz Donohoe. Martin is a quick guard who can distribute and drive. Martin also is one of Big 12’s top rebounders.
“Martin, as a perimeter player is one of the leading rebounders in the league,” Mulkey said. “When you look at what they have returning, and what they are getting from freshman, you just keep waiting for them to explode and get back on track. When they went to Iowa State and won that tells you that whatever problems they were having, it’s fixable.’
Donohoe is the Cowgirls’ gunslinger, just one three-point basket away from scoring her 200th three-pointer in an OSU uniform.
“They’re really undersized a little bit at the four like we are,” Mulkey said. “They’ve even moved Donohoe in there this year and she’s a tremendous perimeter shooter. We match up with her pretty good too.”
Sophomore forward Nina Davis and junior guard Niya Johnson are grabbing hold of this season’s Lady Bears. Mulkey said the leadership positions on this team were totally up for grabs at the beginning of the season. Davis and Johnson stepped forward as Mulkey’s front-runners to lead this team in the final stretch of the season.
“[Davis and Johnson] just quietly do their job,” Mulkey said. “In the course of a game, through lots and lots of games, they quietly do things that people usually don’t notice because we usually have a big lead.”
Davis leads the conference in scoring and Johnson leads the entire country in assists. It is an effective duo that provides lots of problems for opposing teams as well as provide the Lady Bears with relief from pressuring the younger players. Because the spotlight is shared, the youthful Lady Bears have been able to blossom in a non-forced manner this season.