By Max Calderone | Sports Writer
The No. 3 Baylor Lady Bears are entering the 2018 Phillips 66 Big 12 Women’s Basketball Championship tournament as the top seed after an undefeated regular season in conference play.
However, they will likely be without senior guard Kristy Wallace due to an injured knee suffered during Monday night’s game against West Virginia.
Head coach Kim Mulkey announced on Thursday that Wallace tore her ACL, but was hesistant to rule her out for the upcoming tournament. Assuming Wallace does not play, the Lady Bears are down to just eight healthy players on the roster.
“With any ACL injury, you don’t go into surgery immediately,” Mulkey said. “I know Kristy has been begging to put a brace on and just try to play. I don’t anticipate her playing, but I know that kid’s personality. She’s one of those who just wants to see if she can run or cut with a brace on.”
Mulkey said she would leave the decision to the doctors to determine when Wallace will be ready for surgery, and that the team will be preparing to play without her.
The injury to Wallace comes after freshman guard Trinity Oliver tore her ACL on Nov. 30 against Kentucky and has sat out every game since. Sophomore guard Natalie Chou had been out since Jan. 31 with a wrist injury, but she is now cleared to return to action.
Mulkey noted that the Lady Bears have been through a lot worse than just injuries this year and used the inspirational stories of Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles and Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to motivate her team.
“It’s next man up,” Mulkey said. “If you can ball, you can ball. Let’s go play and do the best we can.”
Baylor is led into the postseason tournament by junior center and Big 12 Player of the Year Kalani Brown. Brown is averaging 19.7 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. She was a unanimous selection to the All-Big 12 First Team.
Brown teams up with sophomore forward Lauren Cox in the post to present one of the most dominant frontcourt duos in all of women’s college basketball. Cox was named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year after averaging 2.5 blocks per game this season. She also adds an average of 14.8 points and 9.3 rebounds per game.
Brown said having Cox come into her own this season has opened up her game and caused a lot of problems for opposing teams.
“She helps my game a lot,” Brown said. “With her ability to knock down a open shot, it opens up the paint and makes it harder for teams to guard. You’ve got to pick your poison.”
Senior forward Dekeiya Cohen has also had a productive second half of the season, scoring in double figures in nine of the last 10 games. Her role offensively will increase without Wallace in the lineup.
Without Wallace, Mulkey will have rely on a rotation of guards to provide valuable minutes for her team. Freshmen Alexis Morris, Didi Richards and Moon Ursin will be needed to step up alongside sophomore Juicy Landrum.
Cox said it will be her job, along with Brown and Wallace from the bench, to lift up the younger players and have their backs going forward.
“I think you have to encourage them and keep them hungry,” Cox said. “We just all have to keep lifting each other up, we have to lean on each other. Kristy is still going to be that leader, but it will still be a team effort.”
Baylor’s first game is at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in Oklahoma City as they take on the winner of the Kansas-Kansas State game. If the Lady Bears win, they will advance to the semifinal round on Sunday, with the championship game being held Monday.
Baylor’s Saturday game can be watched on Fox Sports Network. The semifinal round and championship game will be broadcast on FS1.