By Jeffrey Swindoll
The No. 3 Lady Bears secured the outright Big 12 title with a dominant 91-75 performance on Saturday against the TCU Horned Frogs at the Ferrell Center. It was Baylor’s fifth-straight claim of the conference crown, rehashing the Lady Bears’ unrivaled success in the Big 12.
Since the departure of Odyssey Sims after last season, the Lady Bears have had their fair share of critics and skeptics throughout the 2014-15 season. Questions of who would lead the team and how quick the Lady Bears would be able to rebuild arose, considering that Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey had an even less experienced team this year than the previous season.
“We’ve got a lot of weapons. We have a lot of depth, and we don’t just have one superstar. They share the basketball well. They help each other defensively. They take criticism. They take coaching and they come back to work the next day.”
Some ask if Mulkey has some magic up her sleeve. Others think Mulkey may have some of Michael Jordan’s ‘Secret Stuff’ from “Space Jam” stashed somewhere in the Ferrell Center. For Mulkey, it really isn’t all that complicated.
“I don’t have a magic potion. I don’t have the answers. I just know we’re pretty good,” Mulkey said. “I know we’ve got a good group of girls to represent Baylor. I think they’ve just proven that every game they’re competitors.”
TCU adjusted its strategy from its previous game against the Lady Bears for Saturday’s game. The Horned Frogs switched out a guard from their five-guard set, adding a post player into the mix to even out Baylor’s usually effective post-play.
The lineup changed the matchup a bit, resulting in a short, early lead for the Horned Frogs. However, after a couple of timeouts, Baylor found the key to their opponent’s demise, as they have done this whole season in the Big 12.
TCU’s lead was short-lived. The Lady Bears pulled in front, looking straight ahead to their shiny, new Big 12 title waiting for them at the finish line. Saturday’s win was Baylor’s 25th-straight win on the season.
Sophomore post Khadijiah Cave totaled a career-high 23 points, surpassing her personal best of 21 that she set in the Lady Bears’ last game against TCU. Junior guard Niya Johnson dished 13 assists, notching her 12th double-digit assist game of the year and the 18th of her career.
“I wasn’t really paying attention [to the personal scoring record], but I know that I’ve got the height advantage and I got the speed so I got a lot of lobs from Niya with the assists,” Cave said. “She knew she could get me inside.”
Sophomore guard Imani Wright scored 14 points, including two three-point field goals to help the Lady Bears pull out to a 41-30 point lead at halftime. Wright also earned her career-high in assists with eight against TCU. Sophomore forward Nina Davis scored 15 points, reaching double figure scoring for the 57th time in her career and the 26th time this year.
“I’ve got to be smart in how I coach these last three games,” Mulkey said. “The first thing I know is we’re going to play to win. If during those three games we can rest them as much as possible, we’ll do that. We’ve been able to do that all year when we get leads.”
Mulkey has had the luxury of getting to rest her starters for a great deal of the season. This has benefitted her in two ways: Her better players stay fresh for the post-season and her less experienced players gain invaluable playing time that may come in handy later on in the year.
Apart from the physical and mental healthiness of her team, Mulkey has masterfully nurtured her team’s vast range of skills and helped improve their familiarity with women’s college basketball. Each week, Mulkey explores different aspects of her team, mixing up the lineup, giving the platform to different players. This became the theme for the Lady Bears this season – everyone contributes.
“This team has great chemistry,” Johnson said. “We all try to feed off of each other and once one of us gets going, we all get going. We made it this far and it doesn’t stop now. We’ll just take it one game at a time.”