By Jessika Harkay | Sports Writer
The Lady Bears open their 2019 preseason with a familiar matchup. This Friday at the Ferrell Center marks the third season-opener in four years against Langston University, an opponent that Baylor has outscored 231-77 in their previous two games.
The Lady Bears enter the year off a successful national championship run, where the team was 37-1 on the season and defeated Notre Dame 82-81 to clinch the NCAA Women’s Basketball title in early April.
Baylor comes into the new year with a veteran lineup, only losing two players, Kalani Brown and Chloe Jackson, to the NWBA.
The team also introduces three new faces — graduate guard Te’a Cooper who transferred from South Carolina, Texas Tech transfer Erin DeGrate and the only true freshman, Jordyn Oliver.
Last year, the Lady Bears welcomed five freshmen. With only one first-year this season, head coach Kim Mulkey said the development this year is not only moving quicker, but also toward finding leadership, especially with the transfers.
“Do you look at it as building a new team or adding pieces to an already really good team? Well, we’re not the same team that won the national championship,” Mulkey said. “We have a lot of the same parts. But we have to get all on the same page. We have to take those new players and do with them what you did with Chloe Jackson and what she did with the freshman last year.”
A transfer Mulkey has high hopes for, especially offensively, is former South Carolina guard Te’a Cooper who is meant to take the place of Jackson.
“Chloe and Cooper’s style of play is different,” Mulkey said at The Big 12 Tipoff media event. “Cooper is more of a, I tend to think more of a ball handler then Chloe was. I think she’s a great penetrator, she can penetrate. Sometimes she doesn’t need to penetrate. Her range is deeper than Chloe, she can shoot a 3-ball and Chloe wouldn’t do it so much. It’ll be interesting to see.”
Cooper averaged 11.9 points per game last season and is familiar with Baylor, who she battled against face-to-face in the Sweet 16 in Greensboro N.C. last April. A big proponent of that game was 6’7 post Kalani Brown who tallied 14 points, seven rebounds and three blocks against South Carolina.
Brown was the No. 21 overall pick in the WNBA draft, playing with the LA Sparks this season. Without their “friendly giant,” as Mulkey used to call her, the Lady Bears will have to adapt in the paint with sophomores Caitlin Bickle, NaLyssa Smith and Queen Egbo.
But if there’s one thing Mulkey said that contributed to the Lady Bears success, and that will stay the same, it’s growing together and allowing each player to have their own individual style of play.
“I don’t believe in changing a whole lot. You let kids do their business,” Mulkey said.
As different girls are stepping into new positions and opportunity, senior post Lauren Cox knows the most important part of rebuilding begins with chemistry.
“You just gotta get everybody on the same track,” Cox said. “Just having that one goal at the end of the season that everybody has on their mind. […] Now that you’ve been there and been to the mountaintop, you kind of have to find that again or you know, that urgency is it would still be there.”
The Lady Bears tip off against Langston at 7 p.m. Friday at the Ferrell Center.