By Drake Toll | Broadcast Reporter
The Baylor Lady Bears basketball team will finish undefeated and repeat as NCAA champions in 2020. Other columns I have compiled consist of bold sports predictions, but this one speaks for itself. While my previous articles detailing how Baylor football could accidentally go 11-1 and volleyball could intentionally win the Big 12 remain freakishly on-par despite numerous doubters, any prediction of the Lady Bears winning another title should be greeted with little scoffing. As for the undefeated part, that may need some explaining. So, let’s dive in.
Coach Kim Mulkey and the Lady Bears are coming off a season in which Baylor finished 18-0 in conference and 37-1 overall to secure their third national championship since Mulkey arrived in 2000. For perspective of how monumental a feat winning three championships in that span is, only one team, University of Connecticut (UConn), has won more — and they’ve won nine. Although Geno Auriemma has seen unprecedented success, Baylor has been right there to play spoiler throughout. Mulkey notably led the Lady Bears to a win over the Lady Huskies in Waco last season to snap UConn’s 126-game win streak in the regular season.
Baylor has been a powerhouse on a national scale, but its play in conference tells an even more dominant story. The Lady Bears are 153-9 in Big 12 play since the 2010-2011 season, winning nine straight conference titles. The last time Baylor lost a conference championship, I was 9 years old.
The culture is there, but what gives the Lady Bears an edge to win a title over a team like Oregon who is led by 2019 Wooden Award winner Sabrina Ionescu? The answer is simple: Lauren Cox. Cox is the preseason Big 12 player of the year and finished last season averaging 13 points and eight rebounds per contest. She also helped the Lady Bears to a Final Four victory over Ionescu’s Fighting Ducks in which Oregon’s star was held to just 18 points on six of 24 from the field. That’s a 25% shooting percentage. To beat Cox’s Bears, that won’t cut it.
While Cox has turned heads throughout her last two seasons, she will have to rise to an even higher level to help replace recently drafted and current WNBA center Kalani Brown. Brown was a perennial WBCA All-American, averaging 17 points and nine rebounds over the course of her last two seasons in Waco. It’s a tall order for Cox to match that level of play and leadership, but the 6’4” power forward will be joined in the effort by 6’3” sophomore Queen Egbo who has been named to top center award watch lists.
Baylor will also enjoy the presence of point guard Te’a Cooper who has been named the preseason Big 12 Newcomer of the Year. Cooper transferred to Baylor from SEC powerhouse South Carolina where she was named Second-Team All-SEC last season. She proved to be a next-level scorer for the Lady Gamecocks, scoring over 15 points per game against top 25 opponents. Cooper has been named to the preseason watch list for best point guard in the nation and could be a viable All-American candidate. She will fit well into a point guard role that will miss Chloe Jackson who finished as MVP of the Final Four last April.
If you thought Mulkey, Cox, Egbo and Cooper could get the job done alone, you will be floored to know that this season’s squad does not even come close to stopping there. Small forward DiDi Richards and shooting guard Juicy Landrum have also been named to preseason award watch lists. Oh, and did I mention Moon Ursin? Ursin saw playing time in all 38 games last season and was a force during Baylor’s opening exhibition game against Langston last week. She finished the 149-32 win with 19 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and six steals. Need I mention, Ursin was the first player to ever secure three Gatorade High School Player of the Year awards. She will be a sneaky piece.
It is obvious that the roster is bolstered with talent, but how will the Lady Bears stack up against their regular-season schedule? Well, I’m glad you asked.
Baylor is almost guaranteed to start the season ranking in the top two nationally. Games against ranked opponents will be scarce from now until the new year. The season officially begins Nov. 5, yet Baylor will not face a Power Five team until Nov. 28. The only top tier test that Baylor will face before Christmas will come late November in the Virgin Islands against a South Carolina team that should be in the top 10. The Green and Gold bested South Carolina by 25 in last year’s postseason. We will give the Lady Bears the nod for a victory as Te’a Cooper will be primed for a big day against her former team. Most of the early slate will be played in Waco, and Baylor owns a 49 game win streak against non-conference opponents in the Ferrell Center. That streak will not end soon.
Baylor will be unscathed and head into 2020 at 11-0. They open conference play against a feisty Oklahoma team on Jan. 4 but face their first top 5 test against UConn on the road Jan. 9. While Auriemma’s Lady Huskies are undeniably good, his three-headed monster of Evina Westbrook, Crystal Dangerfield and Christyn Williams may become a trio of one. Westbrook, a transfer from Tennessee, may not be able to play this season because of NCAA transfer rules, and Dangerfield has been battling injury since she had knee surgery in June. Do not be surprised if the Lady Bears walk into Hartford, Conn. and come home with a double-digit victory over short-staffed UConn.
Lastly, let’s break down conference play. Baylor is substantially better than anyone else in the Big 12. Texas will be ranked much of the year, but Coach Karen Aston (the pride of Vilonia, Ark.) and the Lady Longhorns will not be able to match Baylor’s star power across all positions. The Lady Bears will sweep conference play for the third straight year to secure a 10th straight conference title.
Baylor will enter postseason play undefeated and host the opening rounds of the NCAA tournament after sweeping through the conference tournament in Kansas City. After blowout wins leading up to the Final Four, Cox and crew will rely on depth and evenness to battle through yet another national championship season. So, there you have it. Coach Kim Mulkey and the Baylor women’s basketball team will join USC, UConn and Tennessee as just the fourth program in history to win back-to-back titles. Buckle up, it’s going to be a fun year.
Drake is a freshman journalism major from Vilonia, Ark.