Lady Bears roll in season opener

Baylor forward Caitlin Bickle grabs a rebound next to Central Arkansas forward Jayla Cody, center right, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, in Waco, Texas. (Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune Herald via AP)

By Harper Mayfield | Sports Writer

Baylor women’s basketball started their 2020-21 season on a high note Wednesday, beating Central Arkansas soundly, 82-37 at the Ferrell Center.

The Lady Bears saw big games from junior forwards NaLyssa Smith and Caitlin Bickle. Smith finished with 25 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks, while Bickle totaled 14 points and 11 boards. Smith and Bickle both equaled or surpassed the scoring total of the entire Central Arkansas starting lineup.

The lineup Baylor opened the game with was full of fresh faces, as only Smith had started more than three games last season. While their inexperience wasn’t ideal, head coach Kim Mulkey wasn’t surprised by a somewhat slow start.

“I just thought it was a typical rusty, slow start, so let’s press, let’s get our juices flowing out there,” Mulkey said.

Bickle took advantage of her newfound starting spot in a big way, posting career highs in multiple categories. Exciting as that promotion can be, Bickle didn’t let it take her out of her game.

“It’s definitely a great opportunity, just to be able to even play again,” Bickle said. “Coach Mulkey is always just telling me about opportunity, and getting my opportunity tonight, I was just trying to do the little things. Different rebounds, just trying to do what I do best.”

Basketball, as with so many other things in 2020, looks a little different due to COVID-19 restrictions, but both Mulkey and the team were excited to get back to in-game action.

“It’s always good to be around my team,” Mulkey said. “I think that we need each other, particularly this time, with everything that’s going on, particularly now, Thanksgiving. It’s very different… it’s something that we have to adapt to.”

The Lady Bears are still without star guard DiDi Richards, but Richards has found ways to have an impact even when she can’t be on the court.

“DiDi Richards, I don’t have to tell her anything about energy, it just comes natural,” Mulkey said. “DiDi coaches from the bench, DiDi probably coaches in the locker room… she coaches in the practice facility, at halftime, and she stays involved in the game. I think… what separates the great ones from the ones that aren’t as great, is that, when they’re not in the game, those great ones are watching the game, they’re learning.”

Richards or no Richards, the Lady Bears still rolled, and it was evident from the jump. Baylor trailed once all game, at the 2-0 mark. From there, the Lady Bears would go on a 20-4 run to close the opening quarter up by 14.

The second quarter was much the same, as Baylor continued to extend its lead, buoyed by big quarters from Bickle and sophomore guard Jordyn Oliver. Each had a pair of scores in the quarter, and Baylor went into the half still up by 14.

Baylor started the second half hot, opening the third quarter on an 8-0 run. The Lady Bear defense was also out in full force in the third, as they held Central Arkansas to just eight points over the duration of the quarter, while scoring 27 of their own.

The Lady Bears didn’t step off the gas on either end in the game’s final period, keeping the defensive pressure on UCA, while still scoring at a high rate. Smith dominated the fourth, with nine points and six rebounds in the quarter. Central Arkansas couldn’t keep pace, and Baylor left the court with an 82-37 win.

Baylor will be back in action on Tuesday as they head to Tampa to take on the University of South Florida.