Lady Bears set record in season opener

By Jessika Harkay | Sports Writer, Video by Nate Smith | Broadcast Reporter

The No. 2 Lady Bears did something they never did before in program history in their season opener Tuesday night. Against the University of New Hampshire, Baylor not only shutout their opponents in the first quarter, but held them to only three points in the first half, setting up their 97-29 victory against the Wildcats.

Baylor led 51-3 into the half, marking a Big 12 and Baylor record and showing why it was ranked first in field goal percentage defense (.318) in the 2018-19 season. It took until the final five minutes of the game for New Hampshire to claim more points (26) than turnovers (23).

But, according to head coach Kim Mulkey, that’s just what Baylor’s defense does.

“I don’t know that [the defense] is much different, just maybe different personnel, same philosophy – pressure the ball,” Mulkey said.

The Wildcats were able to find a spark of momentum in the third quarter, only being outscored 22-16. It wasn’t enough though, as the Lady Bears continued to dominate with three post players offensively.

Sophomore NaLyssa Smith led the pack with her fourth career double-double game with 21 points and 14 rebounds, followed by transfer Erin Degrate posting 18 points and senior Lauren Cox with 11. Smith surpassed 200 career rebounds, setting a career-high with 14 tonight.

But what makes the sophomore so valuable this season? Her experience.

“She brings a level of confidence from her freshman year,” Mulkey said. “She brings a different style. She’s not replacing Kalani [Brown]. They’re two totally different position type players and yet at the same time, she’s just got that athleticism.”

That athleticism Mulkey described is something the post player sees too, crediting her speed and mobility to her season-opener success.

“I have to say, I love to just run the floor,” Smith said. “That’s where a lot of my points come from, just spreading the floor because I know my guards are going to get it to me.”

With the help of Smith, Baylor shot at a 57% field-goal percentage while holding the Wildcats to 16%. In the fourth quarter Mulkey’s team tacked on 24 more points to extend their lead and seal the game 97-29. But there’s still room for growth Mulkey said.

“What I try to emphasize is don’t look at the scoreboard,” Mulkey said. “When that game is over, were you valuable or were you a liability? So after the game, I ask each of them to tell me one thing, if you were standing here as a coach, what you think that you individually could do better.”

Prior to the matchup, the Lady Bears were honored with the unveiling of their national championship banner and rings — something Mulkey said may have thrown the team “out of rhythm a little bit,” but was well deserved and “awesome.”

Cox agreed, saying “it was a little difficult,” being out of the normal routine.

“We usually shoot, we go back in the locker room, come back out, go back in the locker room, come back out,” Cox said. “We didn’t have that today. We had a shorter warm up, so that kind of affected us a bit.”

But regardless, the ring was something the senior post and the team were excited for, and ready to have in their possession, as earlier in the week Juicy Landrum said it felt like a “lifetime” of waiting and that Cox was ready “to wear to class tomorrow.”

The Lady Bears next host Grambling State at 6 p.m., Friday at the Ferrell Center.