By Jessika Harkay | Sports Writer
One top 25 women’s basketball team has to have its undefeated record snapped when No. 2 Baylor and No. 22 Southern Florida face each other today.
The Bulls come into Waco hot with a 4-0 record with wins over Jacksonville, No. 15 Texas, Howard and Virginia Commonwealth. Southern Florida averages 73.3 points per game with a .412 shot average from the field with the help of junior forward Bethy Mununga, who leads the team with a .719 shooting average (23-32) and 10.8 rebounds a game.
Baylor’s defense, on the other hand, has held its opponents to an average of 39 points and, according to head coach Kim Mulkey, will have to focus on performing with a dominant defensive effort.
“You got to know how good they are, a lot of international kids. They play in that league with UConn and were picked second in that league. They defeated Texas who’s in our league that we’re very familiar with,” Mulkey said. “Our post players have their hands full with getting defensive rebounds. Our guards now have to help us rebound like more than they ever have.”
The full team effort is in part the result of the Lady Bears losing their senior post Lauren Cox to injury for a second consecutive game. Though Mulkey’s team can feel her absence, it also allows younger players step up.
“It’s an opportunity for someone to shine and we have enough returning players for them to shine and then somebody replace Cox if it’s multiple players,” Mulkey said. “We’re going to find out about our team without our leader for these next few games, and they’re probably are the toughest non-conference games we have coming up.”
Sophomore center Queen Egbo is a key player who earned a spot in the starting lineup for the Lady Bears in their 112-42 victory against Houston Baptist last week. The sophomore notched a career-high 21 points last week with six rebounds and a block in the place of Cox. The post understands the importance of stepping up and adjusting.
“The first half [last week] I don’t think I [ran the floor] enough and so the game kind of took a little longer to come to me,” Egbo said. “I had to think more, and I had to make more decisions, and so second half was just easier. The game was coming easier to me and it was a lot. It wasn’t as much thinking; it was just playing.”
In terms of adjusting, the center said the biggest thing is learning from the senior on how to stay out of foul trouble and find her way in the passing lane.
“Lauren, I feel like sometimes, is underappreciated defensively by the media and people don’t really understand how good she is,” Egbo said.
On the other side of the ball, the Lady Bears expect to be pressed man-to-man when they face the Bulls.
“They’re not going to let you they’re going to they’re not going to let you come off on ball screens like you’re used to,” Mulkey said. “They’re going to really, really, really isolate you on ball screens with their post and the girl that’s guarding the perimeter players, we’ve got to work on that, continue to work on that. What you don’t want to do is you don’t want to jack up shots all over the floor.”
Missing shots hasn’t been a problem for Baylor. In three games the Lady Bears have scored 329 points with an average of 109.7 per game and a shooting percentage of .583 compared to holding opponents to .219. So far this season, Mulkey’s team is led by sophomore NaLyssa Smith with 58 points followed by Egbo with 49.
With Egbo filling Cox’s big shoes, the head coach knows each player can’t be compared and each girl simply has “to show what you do best.”
Baylor hasn’t lost to a top 25 team since early 2017 where the Lady Bears fell to Texas 85-79. The program’s last loss to a non-conference opponent at home dates back to 2013, but since then, Baylor has seven consecutive victories against non-conference top 25 opponents.
The Lady Bears will tip off at 7 p.m. tonight at the Ferrell Center.