By Max Calderone | Sports Writer
When senior guard Kristy Wallace fell to the floor, clutching her knee in a home game against West Virginia on Feb. 26, Baylor fans everywhere held their breath.
When it was announced that Wallace had torn her ACL and would most likely miss the rest of the season, questions started to arise about the championship caliber of the top-seeded Lady Bears without their senior leader.
Would the team be able to make a deep postseason run that many had predicted for them? Would they still be able to win the Big 12 tournament? How badly would Baylor miss Wallace’s contributions?
Freshman guard Alexis Morris put all those questions to rest, stepping up and delivering on the biggest stage for her team. She averaged 14.3 points per game in Baylor’s dominant run through the Big 12 Conference tournament, securing yet another Big 12 Championship for the Lady Bears.
Head coach Kim Mulkey said she expected every last bit of that from Morris after recruiting her in high school and watching her develop over the season.
“Honestly, we expect that. We have watched [Morris and Wallace] every day in practice, we’ve watched them scrimmage and go at it with Alexis’s team versus Kristy’s team. That was no fluke,” Mulkey said.
Morris was a McDonald’s All-American coming out of Legacy Christian Academy in Beaumont. She scored over 31 points per game in high school and ended her career with 3,369 total points. She was even named Gatorade’s 2017 Player of the Year in Texas.
After the Big 12 Championship game, Mulkey said simply that “the kid can play” and reiterated it again Wednesday before the NCAA Tournament gets underway.
“She’s got a swag about her that she expects to do it,” Mulkey said.
Without Wallace, the team’s unquestioned leader, all eyes were on Morris to take on an increased role. She never wavered, even after making just two starts over the course of the regular season.
Morris played all but four minutes in Baylor’s three postseason conference games against Kansas State, TCU and Texas. She played the entirety of the championship game, scoring 19 points and dishing out three assists to earn a spot on the Big 12 Championship All-Tournament Team.
Though the team undoubtedly misses Wallace’s 12.9 points per game and willingness to take the big shot, it remains confident and comfortable with the roster, especially after sweeping the Big 12 regular season and postseason tournament.
Senior forward Dekeiya Cohen said the Lady Bears will miss Wallace’s leadership and personality as they begin their run in the NCAA Tournament today against Grambling, but she is proud of the way Morris has played and has plenty of confidence in her entering the postseason.
“We’ll definitely miss Kristy a lot,” Cohen said. “On and off the court, she’s a great person in general and we’re going to miss her. It’s a given. But Alexis Morris, she’s definitely stepped up and she’s done a great job. We’re definitely proud of her. She’s doing everything we’ve asked her to.”
Baylor’s opening round game against Grambling will tip-off at 6:30 p.m. tonight at the Ferrell Center. If the Lady Bears advance, they will take on the winner of No. 7 Michigan and No. 10 Northern Colorado on Sunday.