By Pranay Malempati | Sports Writer
After victories over now-No. 4 Connecticut and unranked Oklahoma State, the Baylor women’s basketball team rises to No. 2 in the AP Poll this week.
The defending national champions entered their biggest non-conference game of the year Thursday night against then-No.1 UConn with an 11-1 record, but only one victory against a ranked opponent.
The Lady Bears put any lingering questions to rest by exploding in the fourth quarter to earn a convincing 74-58 victory and hand the Huskies their first home loss since 2013. Then on Sunday, Baylor dominated in their first home Big 12 game of the season, defeating Oklahoma State 94-48.
Baylor quickly flipped the script on the one flaw they showed against the Huskies. The team is known for dominating inside, but against Connecticut, Baylor allowed 15 offensive rebounds and only out-rebounded the Huskies by a margin of three.
Against Oklahoma State, Baylor won the boards by a jaw dropping 40 rebounds, only allowing six offensive rebounds. Kim Mulkey said she was proud of this immediate turnaround on the boards.
“You’re darn right [it’s pretty satisfying],” Mulkey said during her postgame press conference on Sunday. “An emphasis on rebounding. . . I told them, that’s the only thing after the Connecticut game. . . we have got to keep people off the offensive boards.”
The win against UConn gave Baylor women’s basketball its first Top 10 win of the season and allowed them to jump up four spots in this week’s AP Poll.
The victory opens the door for the Lady Bears to take hold of the top spot in the rankings later in the season. The only team still ahead of them is South Carolina, which Baylor lost to earlier this season. But that was without forward Lauren Cox, the preseason favorite for National Player of the Year. South Carolina has six games remaining against ranked opponents, including the Huskies, giving them more chances to slip up and hand the top spot to the Lady Bears.
Opposing coaches, including Oklahoma State head coach Jim Littell, say they are impressed by the way Baylor is winning this year as compared to previous seasons.
“It’s obvious to me that they’ve probably got the best club in the country. It’s a different team than they’ve had,” Littell said. “Told Kim [Mulkey] after the game, this is a team that is probably her best team in transition.”
Mulkey said after the Connecticut game that the team’s style of play is just a product of the type of players she had. She said that in previous years, their best players were bigs, so it made sense to impose their presence inside the paint. This year, according to Mulkey, their team better fits a scheme built around outside shooting and transition play.
Baylor will continue its season at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Lawrence, Kan. against the Jayhawks, who are undefeated outside the conference but are 0-3 in the Big 12. The Lady Bears’ next game against a ranked opponent is at home at 7 p.m. Saturday against No. 19 West Virginia.