By Ben Everett | Sports Editor
No. 1-ranked Baylor women’s basketball opens the Big 12 Tournament with a game against No. 8-seed Oklahoma and No. 9-seed Texas Tech at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in Oklahoma City.
The Lady Bears (28-1, 18-0) are the No. 1 seed in the tournament after running the table in the Big 12 regular season and claiming their ninth straight Big 12 title.
Junior forward Lauren Cox said the Big 12 Tournament is a chance to cement their status as a dominant force in the conference.
“If there were any doubts about us being a No. 1 seed, that’s a way that we can prove it is going 3-0 in the tournament and winning,” Cox said. “Just proving to everyone that we’re legit and you need to take us seriously.”
The NCAA Tournament committee currently pegs the Lady Bears as the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, and Baylor has a chance to lock in that seeding by going 3-0 this weekend. Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey said there are multiple Big 12 teams still fighting for NCAA Tournament positioning, so the conference tourney will be no joke.
“We don’t plan to lose,” Mulkey said. “We play to win and we do understand there are teams that will be there that need to win the [Big 12 Tournament] to get in the NCAA Tournament, and we can’t allow them to play harder because of that. We’re not going there to go through the motions. We’re going there to win.”
On Wednesday, Cox was named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year for the second consecutive season. Additionally, senior center Kalani Brown and sophomore guard DiDi Richards were named to the All-Big 12 Defensive team along with Cox. Cox said the Lady Bears have been a lockdown team all season long.
“It means a lot and it shows a lot about our defense,” Cox said. ” All five of our starters could have been on that team. Any of us could have won Defensive Player of the Year. I think we’re just playing really good team defense and the stats will show it too.”
The Lady Raiders and Sooners each finished with 4-14 records in conference, but Texas Tech holds a 13-16 overall record while Oklahoma sits at 8-21. The Lady Bears swept both teams in the regular season, but Richards said that doesn’t mean Baylor can take a night off.
“It doesn’t make it easier, but at least we know what to expect now that we’ve played them twice and we’re getting ready to play them a third time,” Richards said. “Same for them too, though. We’re still going to have to execute and run our plays to a T.”
One of the strengths of the Lady Bears is their depth. Baylor has eight players averaging over 10 minutes per game, including two freshmen: forward NaLyssa Smith and center Queen Egbo. Cox said the consistency of the bench unit and the freshmen will help the team throughout its postseason run.
“We have a lot more depth this year with the freshman coming in,” Cox said. “I don’t think we have a dropoff either. They’ve learned a lot this year and they’ve come a long way. Whenever they get in, they know what to do, and that helps us out a lot.”
Texas Tech and Oklahoma play at 6 p.m. Friday. If Baylor wins its first game, it will face the winner of No. 4-seed West Virginia and No. 5-seed Kansas State at 2 p.m. Sunday.