By Nathan Keil | Sports Writer
Both of the Baylor basketball teams are giving Baylor nation plenty to cheer about this season.
Despite the college football season officially coming to a close on Monday night, the college basketball season is reaching the halfway marker. Let’s take a review and look at the highlights from the first half of the 2016-2017 Baylor basketball season.
First, for the Lady Bears.
The Lady Bears opened the season strong, ranked third in the country. They defeated the ninth ranked UCLA Bruins 84-70 at the Ferrell Center. However, Baylor suffered its only loss of the season just three days later at Connecticut, the four-time defending National Champion.
Kim Mulkey, Baylor Women’s head coach said that Connecticut was tougher down the stretch and that was the difference in the game.
“Toughness. Just flat out toughness, taking balls away from posts when they threw it in there,” said Mulkey. “A turnover here or there, just cuts for them on offense. Just toughness – that’s all it was.”
Since this early loss, the Lady Bears have been cruising through the competition, picking up marquee wins at the University of Tennessee and winning the Gulf Coast Showcase in Estero, Fla. over the Thanksgiving break. On their way to winning the title, the Lady Bears knocked off the University of DePaul and Ohio State University, both ranked opponents.
Mulkey and the Lady Bears would complete their non-conference slate with four more wins, including when they set an NCAA record for margin of victory with a 140-32 victory over Winthrop on Dec. 15.
Mulkey believes Baylor could have beaten anybody on that day.
“We could have beaten a lot of teams today. We were just clicking on all cylinders. I was made aware after the game of all the records,” Mulkey said. “You’re happy for players who break records and when you get a chance for them to stay in another minute you do because it’s not always going to be that way.”
The Lady Bears have been perfect thus far in Big 12 play, racking up victories over Kansas, Kansas State, West Virginia, Oklahoma State, and Texas Christian University.
At 16-1 overall, Baylor has been extremely balanced scoring the basketball. The Lady Bears have five averaging double figures in scoring, led by redshirt senior guard Alexis Jones at 15.8 points per game. Sophomore post Kalani Brown is shooting an extremely efficient 67% from the field and scores 13.6 points per game. Senior forward Nina Prince and redshirt senior guard Alexis Prince are both averaging more than 11 per game. Sophomore post Beatrice Mompremier also averages 10 points per game.
Perhaps the biggest advantage the Lady Bears boast is their advantage on the glass. Baylor is averaging nearly 25 more rebounds per game than their opponents. When given the opportunity for second chance points, the Lady Bears have rarely failed to capitalize.
The Lady Bears have 13 games remaining, including six at the Ferrell Center before entering the Big 12 Tournament. Baylor resumes play on Jan. 15 in Lawrence, Kan. against the Jayhawks. Tipoff is set for 1pm central time.
For Scott Drew, Baylor men’s head coach, it has been a steady rise to the top.
Baylor entered the season not receiving one vote in the Associated Press’ Top 25 rankings despite being ranked at least once in the last ten years and earning a five seed in the 2015 NCAA Tournament.
As Baylor took the floor against Oregon on Nov. 15, it let made a huge statement to the country. The unranked Bears upset the fourth ranked Ducks 66-49.
Drew credits Baylor nation for its impact on the game through the hostile environment it created for the Ducks.
“First and foremost, I want to say that, all those that were here today, y’all made an impact on the game. We talk about it all the time: you can watch a game or you can affect it,” Drew said. “To come to the game and do what you did today, that really helps, and because of that, you made history with us: first non-conference top-five team to be beaten in Waco in 110 years, so everyone got to be a part of that and we want to thank y’all for that.”
This resume building win was only the beginning for Baylor. The Bears played the role of comeback kid when they hit the Bahamas over Thanksgiving Break, erasing halftime deficits in wins over Virginia Commonwealth University and Michigan State. They saved their best effort for last, as they erased a 22 point deficit in knocking off Louisville 66-63.
Baylor continued to march its way right through its non-conference slate, picking up a win over the seventh ranked Xavier Musketeers and entering Big 12 play 12-0.
After picking up its first true road win against the Sooners, Baylor returned to its early season magic with strong stretch play by junior guard Manu Lecomte. The Miami transfer nailed the game winner against Iowa State and hit several crucial shots in putting away Oklahoma State.
The fruits of its labor resulted in Baylor earning its first number one ranking in program history.
Lecomte echoed the importance of the ranking but kept in context for the team’s larger season goals.
“It’s a great feeling. Not a lot of teams get to be No. 1 during the season,” Lecomte said. “But again, our goal is first to win the Big 12, and then to go to the Final Four and win it all. Next game, we’re 0-0.”
The achievement was short lived, as Baylor dropped its first game of the season, 89-68 to the tenth ranked Mountaineers on Tuesday.
Regardless of its defeat on Tuesday, Baylor has put together a strong resume this season. Part of the success has been its commitment to the defensive end through its use of a 1-1-3 zone. The zone is limiting its opponent to 38% shooting from the floor and 31% from beyond the arc.
Lecomte’s play at point guard has been important for Baylor but so has been the play of the twin towers in the post. Junior forwards Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. and Jonathan Motley are putting together impressive campaigns. Motley leads the team in scoring at 15.3 and grabbing nine rebounds per contest. Lual-Acuil Jr. is averaging just under 11 points and grabbing seven rebounds per game as well.
Baylor will have to wait to see how far it drops after Tuesday’s loss, but at 15-1 overall, the Bears remain just a game behind Kansas in the conference standings.
Drew and the Bears return to action on Jan. 14 when they will travel to Manhattan, Kan. to take on the 25th ranked Wildcats. Tipoff is set for 3:30 p.m. central time.