By Foster Nicholas | Sports Writer
Last week, Baylor women’s basketball dropped out of the Associated Press Top 25 Poll rank for the first time since 2004, being the first team out with 51 votes. However, in the most recent installment, the Bears failed to receive a single vote.
Over the last two decades, Baylor has become one of the faces of women’s collegiate sports. Year after year, expectations were sky high and the team was always winning a Big 12 championship or at least in the running for one, but it’s feeling like that won’t be the case this season.
For a season that started very optimistic, things changed fast. Head coach Nicki Collen was able to have more control over her roster and player development with a full offseason, and the Bears came out of the gates strong.
Suddenly, miscues on the court caused several losses and the young team that had so much potential fell off in a way. So what happens now?
I think falling out of the AP Top 25 has crushed any Big 12 title hopes and that the focus on player development needs to be emphasized to start winning more.
Collen has a whopping eight newcomers on her roster this year, and with losses piling up, it’s very easy for a player or group of athletes to lose confidence. I think the only way to get over that is to keep having faith in the players on your roster. This could mean it will take longer for Baylor to get momentum on their side because repetition is the only way to get better. Unfortunately, this won’t happen overnight.
So far this season there has been no consistency in playtime for anyone. Some games, the team has seven players see the floor, and in others, 12 players will have significant minutes. It’s extremely hard to get in a rhythm as a player if playtime and role are constantly in question. Collen needs to choose a rotation and stick with it because the team will lose confidence and morale will go down.
The connection between inconsistent playing time in games and a lack of confidence on the court can’t be understated. Even if a player gets up hundreds of shots in practice, it doesn’t equate to real minutes in games that matter. If the team is fully focused on winning in the regular season, it’s likely that many players who need to improve their confidence won’t see the floor. If winning in March is what this team really wants, then trusting in each player to find a role on the team should be the focus.
When this program’s had success, it’s mostly come at home. Historically the green and gold are hard to beat at the Ferrell Center, but they’ve lost that edge too. Once the team becomes more comfortable with each other on the court, I think the home court advantage will come back, but for now, it’s not a knockout punch.
Even though I may be pessimistic, there are still signs of improvement and reasons for optimism. For the third time this season, Darianna Littlepage-Buggs was awarded Big 12 Freshman of the Week. Littlepage-Buggs will be a key part to potential Baylor success and if she is able to develop as a leader in addition to her on court production, she could help the team get back on track. Right now she is only averaging 23 minutes per game and sometimes isn’t even a starter. She is instantly one of the best players on the court whenever she plays, so improving her workload will be vital to team success and her development.
The Bears have a good chunk of the season left and if the team is able to get on the same page, they could be primed for a Cinderella run in March. However, that can’t happen if Baylor doesn’t start to prioritize getting more out of its athletes on a game to game basis.