Queen Egbo, Lady Bears surging at the right time

San Antonio, TX - MARCH 23: {BAYLOR VS VIRGINIA TECH} during the Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament held at Bill Greehey Arena on March 23, 2021 in San Antonio, TX. (Photo by Rudy Gonzalez/NCAA Photos)

By Harper Mayfield | Sports Writer

It seems that every year, in every NCAA tournament, there’s a player that steps up their production to help get their team over the hump. For this year’s Baylor team that player is junior center Queen Egbo.

In her last eight games, Egbo has averaged 13.3 points, 11.6 rebounds, along with a whopping 3.5 blocks. Those shot-blocking numbers would slot Egbo in at the No. 4 spot in the nation, and her rebounding average would tie her with Lafayette’s Natalie Kucowski as the No. 1 rebounder in America. As elite as her defense has become, Egbo had a stretch early in the season where she fell off somewhat due to fear of foul trouble.

“I let her know real quick ‘Oh no, you’re not going to come out here and not guard anybody for fear of fouling,” head coach Kim Mulkey said.

In her recent surge, Egbo has begun to see the fruits of her hard work, both in her box score and in team results.

“I feel like this is when you want to start seeing results and seeing your hard work pay off,” Egbo said. “This is what my team needs. They need this on a consistent basis. This is only going to make us better and make me better and make my teammates better when I’m playing well, I feel like we’re all starting to peak at the same time.”

Egbo’s numbers on the glass this season are a huge leap forward from her previous two campaigns, and it’s all a result of the hard work she’s put in.

“I work hard on being a really good rebounder, especially offensive rebounder,” Egbo said. “I feel like when [my teammates] shoot the ball, there’s a really good chance it’s going in. On the few time [they] do miss, I have to position myself well to get an offensive rebound and possibly put in back in or kick it out and get another shot.”

Mulkey has always known Egbo was a tremendous talent, as have basketball minds around the country. Egbo was a 2018 McDonald’s All-American, and won a gold medal in Thailand during the 2019 FIBA World Cup. In her sophomore season, Egbo began her breakout. She was named the Big 12 Sixth Person of the year, and her shooting percentage on the season put her in the top 10 in program history. Now she’s come even further into her own and is quickly becoming a dominant force on a Baylor team that is making their move at just the right time.

“Queen Egbo now has her own identity,” Mulkey said. “She is not living in somebody’s shadow. She’s not trying to do what previous players have done. When you find your niche, then do it to the best of your abilities, and she really is. We knew it was in her. We just kept trying to get it out of her quicker than she could get it out. Now, she’s at the point where, when she doesn’t do those things, we’re frustrated at her, because now we expect it every game.”

In Baylor’s most recent NCAA tournament game, a Round of 32 matchup with Virginia Tech, Egbo locked down All-ACC center Elizabeth Kitley. The 6-foot-5-inch Kitley, one of the nation’s top inside forces, averages over 18 points and 10 rebounds a game. Against Egbo, she managed just six points and six rebounds on 2-12 shooting from the field. Egbo on the other hand had 12 points, 13 rebounds and seven blocks. Shutting down one of the five finalists for the Lisa Leslie award is no small feat, but nobody on the Baylor sideline was surprised by Egbo’s dominance.

“The job that Queen did on Kitley [was incredible],” Mulkey said. “But she’s been doing that … Not that she cares, but every now and then people need to recognize what that kid does and what she did today.”

That recognition is certainly coming, especially as Baylor continues to march deeper and deeper in the NCAA tournament. Egbo will no doubt continue to play at a high level, and her next test will arrive at 2 p.m. Saturday in the form of the Michigan Wolverines and star post Naz Hillmon. The showdown is likely to be an explosive one, and fans can tune in on ABC.