By Jeffrey Swindoll
The No. 6 Lady Bears earned themselves the No. 1 seed for the Big 12 tournament in Dallas at the American Airlines Center this weekend after a stunning season in conference play. Baylor lost just two out of 18 games.
The entire tournament can be viewed in the FOX Sports family of networks. Baylor begins its campaign at 1:30 p.m. Saturday against the winner between Kansas and Kansas State, which takes place 6 p.m. today. Baylor seeks its fifth-straight Big 12 tournament title and seventh all-time.
Baylor beat every team in the Big 12 twice this season, with the exception of Oklahoma and Iowa State (both away games). The Lady Bears ended the season with a win against Texas Tech at the Ferrell Center on Monday.
“It was very important for our confidence and for getting back on track seeing that the Big 12 Conference Tournament is about to come up,” junior guard Niya Johnson said. “Those two losses we had were very uncharacteristic of us and we just needed to get back on track, and I feel like we did that.”
Those two conference losses occurred over a two-game span after Baylor had already clinched the Big 12 regular season title. The Lady Bears have been prepped for every team in the conference and have beaten all of them comfortably at least once.
Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey said she was able to find favorable matchups against each team this season, which will carry over into the upcoming conference tournament. Mulkey won the Big 12’s Coach of Year award on Wednesday. Her expert adjustments to Baylor’s lineup and skillset were vital to Baylor’s massive success in conference play this season and will be on full display for the Lady Bears in the tournament this weekend.
Johnson and Sophomore forward Nina Davis, recognized as All-Big 12 first team on Wednesday, are a one-two punch for which none of the Big 12 teams has much of an answer. Johnson and Davis energize the Lady Bears to become a cohesive unit on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
“This team has great chemistry. 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.”
Davis scores in double figures just about every time she steps on a basketball court, and Johnson leads the country in assists. But heavy hitters are sprinkled across the 10 teams in the Big 12.
“I think [the tournament will] be as wide open as the season has been,” Kansas State head coach Jeff Mittie said. “It’s been one of those years where it’s a battle the whole time. This league has always been like that, but this year it seems to have had its share of upsets and kind of rhythms to it. So I expect the tournament to be no different.”
The Big 12 regular season ended with a four-way tie for third place. TCU, Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Texas all finished with a 9-9 record. Oklahoma (13-5) is right behind Baylor (16-2) at the top. Texas Tech (5-13) has the best record that any worst-seeded team has had coming into the tournament. Parity is preached as a great attribute of the Big 12 this season by coaches and players, the standings attest to those claims.
“If I’m a fan, I’m coming to every game,” Texas head coach Karen Aston said. “There are so many games during the season that have gone down to the wire and I think there are so many evenly matched teams or definitely a lot of teams that, on a given night, anybody could win. It makes for a very fun tournament. I’m looking forward to it.”