By Michael Haag | Sports Editor
Nearly every time Baylor women’s basketball junior guard Sarah Andrews walks into the media room for a press conference, she greets the media members with a loud, “Hey, y’all, let’s go,” or, “Hey, hey, hey, how are we doing?”
Andrews hasn’t been like this during her entire three years at Baylor, but when the bulk of the Bears’ offensive production from 2021-22 team moved on to the WNBA, head coach Nicki Collen placed more pressure on Andrews to step up the following year.
Part of that responsibility comes in the scoring department, but it also includes energy, attitude and being a role model for a roster that started the year with eight newcomers. It also didn’t help that the two biggest new faces, senior forward Aijha Blackwell and redshirt senior forward Dre’Una Edwards, Edwards, missed nearly the entire season due to injuries and eligibility issues.
But Andrews stepped up to the plate and delivered for the second-year head coach.
Back in November, Collen said she expected Andrews to become more of a “Batman.” That was a pretty tall task given that last year’s Batman, NaLyssa Smith, ended up being the No. 2 overall pick in the 2022
Smith had a Robin, too, in Queen Egbo, who was the 10th player taken off the board to the same team as Smith, the Indiana Fever. Jordan Lewis was also a member on Baylor’s Big 12 championship squad a year ago, which meant that three WNBA players were primary options for the Bears in 2021-22.
Yet, Collen still put Andrews to the test moving forward, knowing that it was a large ask for such a massive leap. However, the Irving-raised guard responded with a season where she represented Baylor on the All-Big 12 First Team.
The honor was a result of Andrews’ team-leading 15.0 points per game and 4.3 assists per game, which is second-highest among players on the team, as of March 12.
Andrews’ strong season came amid a lackluster campaign from the Bears (19-12). The team’s trend was to put together a strong road win against a top-25 team, but then follow it up with a home loss to an unranked foe.
In dealing with that, Andrews said she learned how to be a leader when it might not come as naturally.
“I think I’ve grown in a lot of ways because I always think it’s easy to lead when you win,” Andrews said. “But how are you going to lead when you’re losing? It’s time to step up and be like, ‘Hey, let’s move on to the next game.’ It’s about being honest, and it’s not about the loss, but it’s about how do you come back and how do you grow?”
She takes that leadership in the heat of a loss and still shows up to post game interviews with her head held high, ready to answer any and all questions. Andrews joked to reporters that “I just can’t be in a bad mood,” but that’s actually the way she presents herself in the public light for this team.
Andrews has taken the Batman role in stride and doesn’t make excuses when she or the team slips up. However, she still gives credit to Smith, Egbo and Lewis for what she learned playing in a starting lineup with those pro-level athletes.
“I think I learned from them, and I’m growing into the role that is meant for me to be and finally living up to it,” Andrews said. “It’s always been there; it’s just about showing it.”
Collen said the tough part for Andrews is she has to be that strong leader on a consistent basis.
“That’s the difference between good and great,” Collen said. “That’s the difference between us being a conference champion, a Sweet 16 [team], advancing in the tournament is, are you going to lead? If, at any point, if you watched the video or the TV copy every time Bella [Fontleroy] fouled or made a mistake … you could literally see Sarah grab [her teammates] and say, ‘It’s all right, let it go.’ But she was so engaged, and they were listening.”
With the group currently on a two-game skid, Collen said Andrews’ ability to hold teammates accountable is what could take this team deep in the NCAA tournament.
“That’s what she needs to do every day if we’re really going to turn the page and be great here again,” Collen said. “That’s just the standard that I have to hold her accountable to, because I know she can do it. I do think she took a big step forward.
“I just want to see her continue that step and be consistent day in and day out in terms of not just how she prepares when she’s here, but is she preparing, getting extra shots up, is she watching our game film afterwards? Is she really taking this workman-like approach to her craft and being great? If she does that, then there really isn’t a limit for her based on her talent.”
For junior guard Jana Van Gytenbeek, Andrews has been one of the more talented players she’s seen in her career. Gytenbeek transferred from Stanford University and was a part of the Cardinal 2021
She said she’s learned a lot playing as Andrews’ backup point guard.
“Sarah is just a bucket,” Gytenbeek said. “Sarah is so good. And I tell her this every day, and she’s like, ‘No, I’m not good,’ because she’s humble. But she’s so tough. And it’s like sneak tough. Whether or not she’ll get her hands on defense, she’ll get her hands in the air. On offense, she’s shifty, she hits shots. Her court vision is crazy. She’s my idol.”
Gytenbeek’s idol said she’s going to continue to have the same amount of energy, whether it’s around the media, the team or the Baylor fanbase. Andrews said she just wants to be a beam of light for her teammates so that they don’t get too low when adversity hits.
“We’d be lying if we said we were perfect,” Andrews said. “Everybody’s not perfect. We know what we do day in and day out. Nobody’s sitting there drawing up X’s and O’s with us, with our coaches, and we know what we do in practice and as long as we believe in each other, we don’t really need anybody else to say, ‘Hey, they can do this or that.’ We have each other and we’re willing to fight for each other. That’s all that matters.”