Lady Bears gear up for repeat title run

NaLyssa Smith and DiDi Richards guard against West Virginia during a Big 12 matchup last spring at the Ferrell Center. Lariat File Photo

By Harper Mayfield | Sports Writer

Baylor women’s basketball has a long history of success and this season looks to be no different. The Lady Bears, the reigning national champs, have reloaded after losing Lauren Cox, Juicy Landrum, and Te’a Cooper to the WNBA last season.

Leading the charge for Baylor this season will be grad transfer DiJonai Carrington, senior guard Moon Ursin and junior forwards Queen Egbo and NaLyssa Smith. The team will open the season without star guard DiDi Richards, as she recovers from a spinal injury.

The addition of Carrington will be big for Baylor, as her experience gives Baylor another seasoned veteran to help steer the ship.

“What she doesn’t have to learn is how hard you have to play, how long you have to play, the intensity of practices,” head coach Kim Mulkey said. “I think she said it best, that the big difference for her is the emphasis we put on man-to-man defense, and how hard we play it. She’s doing great, she shoots the ball well from the perimeter, she’s a three point threat for us, and she’s also strong. She has a body that can get in there and rebound and bang with you.”

The versatility that Carrington has is something of a hallmark for this Baylor team, as the Lady Bears return six of the top 10 scorers, three of their top five rebounders and four of their top five shot blockers.

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Even with the firepower the team has returning, the loss of experienced players like Cox, Landrum and Cox carries a heavy weight. Players like Ursin will need to step into larger roles this season to push the Lady Bears to the heights they feel capable of reaching.

“My role right now is to be a leader,” Ursin said. “I’m stepping into a big role this year, and I need to make sure I handle that well within myself, within this team, and just continue to gain coach’s confidence. Right now I’m just trying to be as vocal as I possibly can, and we’re losing a lot on the court, so I have to step up extremely big this year.”

Other players that will be forced into larger roles are freshmen Sarah Andrews and Hannah Gusters. The Baylor roster is small this year, leaving Andrews and Gusters to fill the roles that might normally be given to veteran players.

“Their freshman frustrations show several times, but they understand that they’re going against older players,” Mulkey said. “And I think the older players will help them. They’re very, very talented and I can’t wait for when they get on the floor and relax and show their skill set.”

Andrews may see the spotlight right away as Richards continues to recover. Andrews and sophomore Jordyn Oliver will be the team’s first options at the point guard spot but Mulkey isn’t worried about the big moments affecting Andrews.

“Being a point guard, it’s a tough position, because not only does she have to learn her position, she’s responsible for everybody else on the floor,” Mulkey said. “Her personality is so easy to coach that I want her to be more forceful, I want her to open her mouth and that comes with time. And unfortunately for them, we don’t have time … they’re going to get thrown into the fire a lot this year, which will make them better in the long run.”

Andrews and Oliver shouldn’t have to hold down the lead guard spot all season, though, as Richards is expected to return later in the year.

“I’m hoping, yes there will be a season, and I’m letting everyone know that I will be playing this season,” Richards said.

Lariat File Photo, Graphic by DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor
Lariat File Photo, Graphic by DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor

While Baylor looks to remain in control of the Big 12, they won’t be without competition. No. 15 Iowa State will look to challenge for the conference crown, as will Texas, who just missed out on a Top 25 spot. Baylor will also get a crack at some top-tier non-conference competition, as the Lady Bears will travel to play No. 14 Arkansas in their fourth game of the season. Baylor’s big ticket matchup will come in January, however, as the No. 3 Connecticut Huskies will come to Waco for a potential national championship preview.

The Lady Bears will tip off their season on Nov. 25 as they welcome another set of Bears, this time the ones from Central Arkansas, to Waco. The game will be aired on Big 12 Now and ESPN+.