By Jeffrey Swindoll
The No. 3 Lady Bears have been unstoppable in the Big 12 this season. No team has found an answer to Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey’s dynamic roster, resulting in an 11-0 record in conference and 21 consecutive wins on the season. Baylor is cruising, sweeping teams in the conference and not stopping for anyone or anything standing in its way.
At 7 p.m. tonight, the Lady Bears face a foe they have not faced all season – the Big 12’s No. 2-ranked Oklahoma Sooners (15-7, 9-2).
It was just two weeks ago that the Sooners were tied with the Lady Bears in the conference standings, undefeated. It will be the two teams’ first look at each other, but Mulkey has been mulling the matchup for quite some time now.
“I know I’ve been in the film room and I’ve watched lots of their games, and they’re good,” Mulkey said. “And they’ve played a non-conference game that’s made them better. There’s a reason they’re in second place. ”
Oklahoma guard Peyton Little leads the Sooners, averaging 18.5 points a game. Her free-throw shooting has been near-perfect lately. This may be a problem for the Lady Bears, who have struggled with sending teams to the line in their last three games.
Other players the Lady Bears should be mindful of include Gioya Carter, named Big 12 Player of the Week, and Gabbi Ortiz, an upstart freshman who has multiple Big 12 Newcomer of the Week awards to her name.
Baylor’s last game came down to a last gasp, defensive stop in the final seconds of regulation. The Lady Bears had to defend an inbounds pass on their defensive end while Texas trailed by just two points. A basket would have tied or won the game for the Longhorns.
It took several blunders and poor game management from the Lady Bears, who had a nine-point lead in the final four minutes of play, to nearly blow it all away on the final play of the game.
“I hope they took all the things we did poorly that last 3:55,” Mulkey said. “Sometimes when you tell them things and coach them and tell them things, they hear you, but they’re not listening. And then when it comes and it happens to them, you can go back and say, ‘You see how quickly a game can change?’”
Sophomore forward Nina Davis successfully blocked Texas’ Brooke McCarty on her drive to the basket a few seconds before the final buzzer went off. Davis started off shaky, but made her points and stops when it mattered. Contrary to Davis’ performance, junior guard Niya Johnson and sophomore guard Imani Wright started off well, but stumbled across the finish line.
“It might have been a little fatigue,” Mulkey said. “And when you get physically fatigued, you become mentally fatigued. I thought that Niya got fatigued, I thought Imani got fatigued, just looking at their body language. And some of that fatigue goes back to me.”
Although Johnson and Wright both scored in double-figures in the Texas game, they are well aware of their mediocre close to Sunday’s game.
“The game was definitely a learning experience,” Johnson said. “It just shows that we can’t give up, even though the tables turned quickly and things started not to go our way, we just can’t give up.”
The Lady Bears are close to winning their fifth-straight regular season Big 12 title. As Mulkey always says at this time of year, there is plenty of basketball left to be played. Today’s game could be a big step towards the Big 12 title.
“It hit me yesterday that you could take a three-game lead versus a one-game lead,” Mulkey said. “I tend to look at it as a coach that we’ve got seven more to play and anything can happen. We’ve just got to focus on Oklahoma and take care of our home court and understand that we’ve got to do a little bit better than we did the last game defensively.”