Lady Bears head to Stillwater looking for fresh start

Baylor forward NaLyssa Smith, center, drives through Oregon forward Oti Gildon, left, and Erin Boley, right, at the NCAA Tournament, Friday, April 5, 2019, in Tampa, Florida. Lariat File Photo

By Harper Mayfield | Sports Writer

After a disappointing 75-71 loss to No. 24 Iowa State, the No. 9 Lady Bears are on the road again, this time to Stillwater.

Against the Cyclones, Baylor shot some of their lowest percentages all season, and put out their only sub 50% performance from the charity stripe. Some of Baylor’s struggles with Iowa State can be attributed to a lack of conditioning, as the Lady Bears hadn’t practiced together in two weeks when they played the Cyclones. Junior forward NaLyssa Smith said she feels that Baylor’s time in the gym since then will have them ready to compete with Oklahoma State.

“They have good defensive rebounding, good offensive rebounding,” Smith said. “So that was our main focus last night … out-rebounding them. I know [they’ve] got Natasha Mack and Ja’Mee Asberry, very good scorers, so we know to play great defense on them.”

Mack and Asberry, who average a combined 35.1 points per game, have been a point of emphasis for Baylor coming into the contest.

“[Mack] is an offensive machine. She’s a very difficult kid to defend,” head coach Kim Mulkey said. “She can shoot the perimeter shot, and she can get it off over bigger players. Then, when you add her rebounding ability, it’s tough. It makes you realize that this kid is doing for her team what the great ones do.”

While Mack owns the paint for OSU, she is also a threat defensively, ranking second nationally in blocks per game (3.9) and overall blocks on the season so far (51). The Cowgirls lead the nation with 92 blocks as a team.

The Lady Bears will also have to keep their eyes on Asberry, who does more of her offensive work on the outside and can be just as dangerous, shooting 40% from the field and 38% at three-point range.

“When you add Asberry to mix, who’s having a great year, when you shoot the three as well as she does, it makes it harder to guard Mack,” Mulkey said.

Smith will have to do her fair share of defending Mack, but Mulkey has faith in her star forward.

“Her practice yesterday was outstanding. She tried to lead by her actions,” Mulkey said. “She does not like to lose, and she’s a player that … has kind of been able to go under the radar a little bit.”

On the season, Smith is averaging 17 points to go along with 9.8 rebounds, both of which are career highs and the leading mark on the team. Smith had the chance to play behind stars like Kalani Brown and Lauren Cox, and now that the attention is on her, she’s answering the call.

While the Lady Bears might still be reeling from COVID-19’s assault on the program, they can’t afford an off night against a 9-4 ‘Pokes team with wins against Oklahoma, Texas Tech, and West Virginia.

Baylor and OSU will take the court at 6:30 pm on Wednesday in Stillwater, Okla. Fans can watch the game on Big 12 Now on ESPN+.