Despite uncertainty, No. 4 Lady Bears ready for tipoff vs. Central Arkansas

Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey, right, talks to her players during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Texas, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020, in Austin, Texas. Baylor won 64-44. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

By Harper Mayfield | Sports Writer

No. 4 Baylor women’s basketball will open its season against unranked Central Arkansas tonight at 7 p.m. in the Ferrell Center.

Despite key losses from last season’s roster, the Lady Bears are still in position to compete for another national championship. Even with the team’s strength, nothing is certain in times like these.

“You notice I’m holding both hands [fingers crossed] today that we are going to have a game tomorrow,” head coach Kim Mulkey said. “As you have seen across the country that is subject to change within hours. But, right now we’re heading to the practice floor. We’re playing a team that has a legendary coach in women’s basketball, Sandra Rushing.”

Since arriving at Central Arkansas, Rushing has amassed 154 wins against only 94 losses. In 2016, Rushing led UCA to a program-record 28 win season, one which saw the team win the Southland Conference and appear in the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history. In addition to Rushing’s high level of experience, her team is comprised of tough, seasoned veterans.

“Two of their top three scorers are returning. They’ll play you man-to-man defense,” Mulkey said. “I know it’s going to be very awkward. A lot of things are going to be different. It’s not going to have the usual feel in the arena, but the game itself, those kids on the floor, for both teams, I’m sure will be ready to play.”

Despite the differences come game time, Mulkey feels her team is prepared to play at a high level, even in a strange environment.

“I think we’ve been able to, in practice, handle adjusting to the unforeseen things that have happened to us,” Mulkey said. “But there’s no substitute for game experience.”

Baylor still returns a good portion of their game experience from last year, despite losing players like Lauren Cox, Juicy Landrum and Te’a Cooper. Veterans like DiDi Richards, DiJonai Carrington, NaLyssa Smith, Queen Egbo and Jordyn Oliver will all have big roles for the Lady Bears this season. After an injury to Richards, Oliver has been thrust into the starting point guard position.

“I feel good, I feel confident, and I feel like I’ve worked for a while to get to this point, and I’m just ready to play,” Oliver said.

Although Oliver, only a sophomore, has yet to start a game for Baylor, she believes she’s ready for the spotlight.

“I think I’ve built my confidence up. I come in with my head held high, just leading the floor,” Oliver said. “Throughout the quarantine and stuff I’ve just been working out and Coach has instilled a lot of confidence in me throughout the years, and I trusted the process.”