By Pranay Malempati | Sports Writer
On Sunday Feb. 3, the late season Wooden Award watch lists were announced with the top 20 candidates listed for both men’s and women’s NCAA basketball. The Wooden Award is given each year to the most outstanding college basketball player and Baylor had a candidate on each list — Lady Bears senior forward Lauren Cox and men’s basketball sophomore guard Jared Butler.
Cox, who was a third-team All-American and Big 12 defensive player of the year in 2019, made the list for the second-straight year. The Flower Mound native said she felt respected by the fact that she was voted to the list even though a foot injury she suffered in November caused her to miss eight of the 22 games Baylor has played so far this season.
“It means a lot,” Cox said, “especially because I’m not playing too good right now. It just shows that they know what I can do and what I’m capable of. They know the player they saw last year — that player is still in me, I just have to get it back out.”
Butler, the leading scorer for the Bears this season, is currently averaging 15 points and three assists. However, he pointed out his defense as one specific area where his game has improved significantly.
“I think my defense [has improved the most since last season],” Butler said. “Last year, I couldn’t guard a soul. It was a struggle for me and we played zone a lot, so that helped me. But this year we play man, and I’m able to guard. I think that’s the most improved part.”
The sophomore from Reserve, La., also attributed his success on the basketball court to God. Butler said his faith is a major part of who he is as a person and as a basketball player.
“[My faith] is a big, big part,” Butler said. “It’s on the forefront of my mind when I walk in the gym, when I walk in the locker room. It’s something that really drives my life. My success on the court is definitely predicated to my faith. What God’s done in my life and the peace he gives me, and the grace he gives me allows me to excel on the court.”
Both Butler and Cox said that while it was nice to be recognized individually on a national level, their focus is still on the team and winning games.
“It’s a huge honor to be on this list and to potentially win some of those awards,” Cox said. “But at the end of the day it’s about the team and I want to win another championship. That’s what the focus is on right now.”