By Harper Mayfield | Sports Writer
Where do the Lady Bears go from here?
Now coming at No. 9, Baylor has to find out where they stand. Head coach Kim Mulkey missed time with COVID-19, as did a number of players, including DiJonai Carrington and Caitlin Bickle, both of whom were unavailable for Baylor’s loss to Iowa State on Saturday.
“I feel like we can learn from everything that happened that night,” junior forward NaLyssa Smith said. “Offensively, I feel like we were real stagnant, defensively we could have followed the scouting report a lot more.”
Baylor’s offense was uncharacteristically bad against the Cyclones, notching the team’s third-worst shooting performance of the season from the field, and their worst from the free throw line. Coming into the Iowa State game, the team hadn’t practiced as a whole for two weeks. By the looks of things, COVID-19 will continue to be an issue this season, but Smith and the Lady Bears are still taking everything as it comes.
“The game of basketball is a blessing,” Smith said. “So every time we get to get on that court and play for each other, I mean, it’s just another opportunity to get better, and just the way the season ended last year …knowing that we [didn’t go as far as we could’ve], we’ve just got to be better.”
This week, the Lady Bears will have had two practices before facing Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Okla. For Mulkey, that might not be enough.
“You can only perform well on game day when you’ve had enough hours in the gym to prepare your team,” Mulkey said.
Mulkey also noted that Baylor’s Monday practice was exceptional, a positive sign after a disappointing loss. Despite Mulkey and the team having had some time off, she felt no need to hold back in their return to practice.
“I told them they might’ve wished I had COVID again,” Mulkey said. “It was intense. It was just fun, it was fun for me because I felt like I had all of their attention…it feels like getting back to normal.”
In a season of unknowns, the Lady Bears are currently in the midst of another. Star Texas Tech guard Chrislyn Carr recently joined the team. Carr was the Big 12 Freshman of the Year in 2019, and had accumulated over 1,000 points in just over two seasons in Lubbock. Carr’s availability and eligibility for Baylor are still unknown.
“I know what she did against us at Texas Tech, and the nature of the beast now is the transfer portal,” Mulkey said. “Her speed and her quickness…her ability to shoot the perimeter shot…her motor runs fast, and I thought those are things we could welcome into our program.”
Looking at the rest of the season, Baylor will face No. 24 Iowa State once more on Jan. 31, a hot West Virginia team again, and have yet to face Texas at all. The Longhorns have bounced in and out of the Top 25 over the course of the season, and Baylor will see them twice in their final five games. The Mountaineers, a team Baylor beat 65-45 early in the year, has gone on a five game winning streak, and now sits at 10-2.
The Lady Bears are still in position for a strong seeding in the NCAA tournament, which could be even more beneficial, as the tournament is rumoured to be hosted in San Antonio, providing something of a home-court advantage for Baylor.
The Lady Bears will be back home against Oklahoma at 7 p.m. Saturday. The game will air on Big 12 Now on ESPN+.