By Jeffrey Swindoll
The No. 3 Lady Bears have the chance to complete something special this season. When TCU comes to town on Saturday to face Baylor at the Ferrell Center, the Lady Bears can secure the Big 12 regular season title with three games still remaining in the conference.
“These players came here because of the tradition of the program,” Mulkey said. “When they put that Baylor uniform on, they know the expectations are to go win and not just win games. They came here to win Big 12 championships and get to the NCAA tournament and let the chips fall where they may.
Baylor has been on a tear of wild success in the Big 12 this season, shattering the expectations projected upon them before the season began. The Lady Bears were certainly in consideration nationally of winning of the conference title. However, the Lady Bears may end up doing so undefeated with a team mostly consisting of freshman and sophomores leading the way.
Several players in Baylor’s lineup are turning in top-notch performances. Everyone can contribute in some way – rebound, points, assists and even some things that do not necessarily show up on the statistics sheet, Mulkey said.
Sophomore forward Nina Davis has soared all season long as one of the nation’s best players. Davis has yet to hit any serious low-point this season. She consistently scores in double figures and often accumulates rebounds in double digits as well.
Junior guard Niya Johnson has had her best season for the Lady Bears yet. She leads the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio and is in the top five of total assists. Johnson scored a season-high 17 points in the Lady Bears’ win over Texas Tech on Wednesday.
Davis and Johnson are Mulkey’s most consistent players in an ever-changing lineup from night-to-night. Mulkey saw quality production from several of her players other than Johnson and Davis. Senior post Sune Agbuke and junior Alexis Prince, Baylor’s core veterans group, scored nine points apiece on Wednesday.
Mulkey’s guards, as much as three strings into the roster, each provide something stylistically different to the offense. Mulkey has often touted herself as “defense-first” coach, but she has never had a lack of offensive firepower in her lineup either.
Sophomore guard Imani Wright and freshman guard Kristy Wallace have traded moments of brilliance with their timely jump-shots both on the road and at home this season. Wright has matured and improved her composure, eventually earning a starting role and never looked back. Wright is a threat with her mid-range game, something that was not necessarily existent in her debut season (2013-14). Wright scored 8 points against Texas Tech on Wednesday.
TCU had their hands full in their first meeting with the Lady Bears, before Baylor had really reached further toward its full potential as a team. Now, with the Lady Bears firing on all cylinders as Mulkey said following their destruction of West Virginia on Sunday, TCU may want to consider ducking for cover at the Ferrell Center on Sunday. It may get ugly.
With a championship in closing distance, the Lady Bears smell blood. When they smell blood, the Lady Bears do not pass up the chance to pounce like a predator, Oklahoma head coach Sherri Coale said.
TCU (15-10, 7-7) rely on the speed and tenacity of its guards to confuse teams offensively and defensively.
“We like a physical game, especially on defense,” TCU guard Zahna Medley said. “We have Chelsea ball pressuring, when she can do that, our other guards deny their players. So I think that physical play benefits us on defense.”
The Lady Bears dealt with the Horned Frogs’ occasional five-guard set in their previous meeting. Baylor beat the Horned Frogs 89-67 in that game, tying the largest deficit by which the Horned Frogs lost this season.
Medley and senior guard Natalie Ventress lead the team with the scoring load this season. In TCU’s previous game, which the Horned Frogs won 73-67 over Kansas, scored a team-high 19 points, shooting 9-for-17. Ventress posted her sixth-straight double-digit scoring performance with 14 points against the Jayhawks.
“She is a confident shooter,” TCU head coach Raegan Pebley said after the Kansas game on Tuesday. “That is what you want your shooters to be. She took some great shots, even when she had missed she knew it was the right shot. It definitely created momentum, but I felt like momentum was created more for us when we were able to get some rebounds and get some hustle plays and loose balls. You saw multiple players on the floor fighting, that kept our momentum going more than just a big shot.”
Senior forward Chelsea Prince will likely matchup with Davis on both ends of the floor. Her production is similar to that of Davis in terms of rebounds and defensive stops, but her scoring is not up to Davis’ standard. Prince looks to keep Davis quiet, but few Big 12 teams have been able to do that this season.