By Jessika Harkay | Sports Writer
No. 1-seeded Baylor women’s basketball looks to continue the longest active Division I win streak as it faces No. 4-seed South Carolina in the Sweet 16 Saturday in Greensboro, N.C.
The Lady Bears have advanced past the regional semifinals in seven of the last nine seasons and hope to improve to 9-6 all-time in Sweet 16 matchups. Under head coach Kim Mulkey, the Lady Bears have made it to at least the Sweet 16 in 14 of 19 seasons.
The matchup has only happened once – in December – where the Lady Bears defeated the Gamecocks 94-69. Even with a win under their belt, Mulkey said they’re going into this game humble and as if they never faced one another.
“We’re continuing to prepare and work the same way that we have for 34 basketball games,” Mulkey said. “You have to have a mentality that we have a respect for the next opponent. We’re not all that. We’re good but so are they. The score is 0-0. It doesn’t matter if we played them in December. It doesn’t matter what the score was. This is a whole new ballgame. That’s the approach we take. That’s the approach the players take. Fear no one but respect everyone.”
Offensively, the two teams are similar to one another. Both teams are nearly identical in turnovers as South Carolina has 434, compared to Baylor at 438, each averaging around 13 per game.
Four Baylor players are shooting above .500, led by senior Kalani Brown at .620. South Carolina has three players shooting at similar numbers and are led by senior forward Alexis Jennings at .556. Although the Lady Bears look to have an upper hand, junior forward Lauren Cox said this matchup will be completely different than the first.
“We can’t think about that game. We shot the ball really well that game; this game we might not shoot it that well,” Cox said. “This time they might have a different game plan. Their game plan last time was to leave the shooters open and to stop everything inside, and we were knocking those shots and they might change it up this time. They’re playing a lot better. Everyone plays their best at the end of the year so it’s definitely going to be a different game.”
But if there’s one thing that will be a defining factor in the game, it’ll be rebounds. Jennings averages and leads the team with 6.4 per game compared to Cox and Brown at eight. On the year, Baylor holds 1,613 rebounds and averages slightly less than 50 a game. On that note, the Lady Bears have out-rebounded nearly every opponent this season.
Mulkey described that even with the Lady Bears’ strengths, the Gamecocks often have something up their sleeve and will adapt to the game through player reads.
“They play a lot of players. They run a lot of different things at you defensively. They started out in a 2-3 zone and we hit a lot of perimeter shots against them then they got out of that and started playing more man. You’re not really going to change who they are,” Mulkey said. “Lauren Cox will be the first one it starts with. Lauren will look at me and I’ll tell her all the time, it’s you guys playing out there.”
The team feels confident going into the matchup. Sophomore guard Moon Ursin said the team’s chemistry is going to be what pushes this team further.
“We’re just so excited and thrilled,” Ursin said. “We play every game like it’s our last because now that’s a possibility. I just think we’re playing really well together partially because we have to and partially because like [Cox] said, our chemistry has been so great. We want to continue to do that and I think if we do, we’re going to go further than we have been.”