Queen of the court; Egbo’s final reign

Queen Egbo reaches her final season with four years of growth alongside the Bears. Grace Everett | Photographer

By AnnaGrace Hale | Sports Writer

After cutting down the nets on March 6 to celebrate a Big 12 regular season title, it was evident this 2022 Baylor women’s basketball squad is a force to be reckoned with. Baylor’s program has continued to excel in the Big 12 despite the recent change in coaching staff and slow start to the season. However, it’s clear this year has been special, especially for the seniors.

Seniors Queen Egbo, a center out of Houston, has been helping the Bears on the court for the last four years. Egbo said this program has allowed her to find growth and consistency in her game.

“I feel like between freshman and junior year I was kind of stagnant,” Egbo said. “I had games where I was really good, but then I had games where I wasn’t so good. So, it’s just kind of hard finding that rhythm. Even though I did start off the season a little slower, I feel like I definitely found my groove now.”

Despite a few stumbles earlier this season, the multitude of awards throughout Egbo’s collegiate career has displayed her prominent presence in and around the paint. Freshman year, she aided the Bears in winning the 2019 NCAA Championship, and in 2020, she received the Big 12 Sixth Person of the Year Award. This year, as well as last, she was named an honorable mention for the All-Big 12 team.

Many of these awards were earned under former head coach Kim Mulkey’s system of play. When current head coach Nicki Collen started this season, there was some question as to whether or not the incoming seniors would stay with the Bears for their final year. For Egbo, the answer was clear.

“I knew my goal was to go to the league,” Egbo said. “So with Coach Collen coming in, it really reassured me, ‘OK I’m in good hands. I know I’m under a system that can propel me to get to where I need to be.’ So there was no need to switch. I mean, how many college coaches do you know come from the WNBA back to college? You don’t get that opportunity very often.”

For the last three years, Egbo also played under Mulkey’s structure and organization. As expected, some adjustments had to be made this year. With Mulkey leading the Baylor program for the last 21 years, the tradition of her system ran deep. With a sudden change, Collen’s coaching style presented some growing pains. The team started their conference play 0-2, falling to the University of Kansas and the University of Oklahoma. However, Egbo said those losses weren’t discouraging.

“[Winning is] not going to happen overnight,” Egbo said. “I feel like that’s kind of what people were expecting with our new coaching staff and everything. They just saw a group of seniors and they saw leaders and they kind of thought, ‘Oh well, they should have everything figured out by now.’ We didn’t even really get a chance to practice with the coaches or anything until the season started because of the coaching changes and everything going on, and so it definitely is going to take time.”

Egbo said Collen’s system of play is fast-paced with more movement around the court. Mulkey’s old-school system was slightly slower, so Egbo said the change was good. In addition, the quicker system has allowed Egbo to prepare for future WNBA play.

Senior forward NaLyssa Smith emphasized the positive impact of Collen’s change in structure, especially regarding Egbo.

“[Collen] is expanding our game a lot more,” Smith said. “It’s helping us where I could play outside and Queen can have the whole paint to herself. I feel like that helps with her scoring a lot.”

Smith also said she has seen some growth in Egbo throughout their four years together and thinks it could improve draft stock for the upcoming WNBA draft.

“Scoring around the rim for sure, and just falling in love with defense,” Smith said. “You see her get these monster blocks every game, and I feel like it can help her stock grow a lot. Where like, a lot of people focus on offense, when you become that one player that focuses on defense, that could raise a lot of people’s radar, and I feel like that could help her.”

Egbo, Smith and forward Caitlin Bickle, are three seniors that have proudly worn the green and gold the past four years. Together, they’ve won four Big 12 titles, two Big 12 tournament titles and one NCAA Championship. Now, in their final year, Egbo is excited to finish her collegiate career with them.

“We’ve been through so much together here these last four years. I think we could write a book about all the stuff we’ve been through,” Egbo said. “It’s kind of a sisterhood here, and we know what we expect. We have just been through so much together, so I’m just excited to finish it out with them.”