Baylor women’s basketball poised to return talent, thrive in 2023-24

Junior guard Sarah Andrews (24) looks to pass to graduate student guard Ja'Mee Asberry (21) during No. 7 seed Baylor women's basketball's round of 32 contest against No. 2 seed University of Connecticut Monday in the Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn. Photo courtesy of Baylor Athletics

By Foster Nicholas | Sports Writer

The 2022-23 Baylor women’s basketball season has officially come to a close, and while the final result for head coach Nicki Collen and the Bears wasn’t perfect, there is lots of potential for the 2023-24 season.

The program is not in panic mode following No. 7 seed Baylor’s hard fought 77-58 loss in the round of 32 against No. 2 seed University of Connecticut Monday in the Gampel Arena in Storrs, Conn.

The ups and downs of the entire season for the green and gold was predominantly uncontrollable. The 2022-23 campaign may have ended far too soon for fans, but there is reason to believe the program will bounce back. Now that all focus moves towards next season, here are three things to get excited about for Baylor women’s basketball.

Healthy and back out there

“As a coach you’re trying to help a young team grow. There were days we had seven people in practice on a 13-people roster,” Collen said following the loss to UConn. “Some days we had eight.”

There weren’t many programs affected by injuries or eligibility quite like Collen’s. It’s easy to complain when looking in the rearview mirror, but thinking about what’s ahead, the potential of a healthy squad becomes that much more exciting.

Forwards redshirt senior Dre’Una Edwards and senior Aijha Blackwell are expected to be back for another year with the Bears. Blackwell sustained an injury early in the season and sat out for most of the year. Edwards missed the entire season due to issues while transferring to Baylor from Kentucky.

Both players are likely to be back on the court and playing significant minutes for the team in 2023-24. Being able to rely on the veteran leadership of Edwards and Blackwell can help younger players grow in their roles and further the team’s success.

Key returning pieces in senior guard Jaden Owens and junior guard Sarah Andrews each struggled with injuries of their own near the end this past season. With a full off-season to get right, the guard play has potential to be strong once again.

From undersized to oversized

Baylor was one of the smallest teams in the Big 12 during the 2022-23 season, but that is about to change. Incoming freshman, 6-foot-7-inch center Letycia Vasconcelos, committed to play for Collen next fall.

Vasconcelos chose Baylor over Texas and is rated as a four-star recruit by ESPN. Her size is something this program hasn’t seen in a long time. The shot-blocking center will enter the Big 12 as one of the tallest centers in the league when she makes her way onto Baylor’s campus.

“Lety will provide us obvious rim protection on the defensive end, however, her ability to run, catch and finish is equally important as we continue to shape our roster. She has good touch and feel around the basket and can consistently knock down the perimeter jumper,” Collen said on National Signing Day.

Big 12 Freshman of the Year, 6-foot-1-inch forward Darianna Littlepage-Buggs, will have the opportunity to play alongside Vasconcelos. Buggs thrived as a shot blocker and rebounding extraordinaire in her true freshman season and still has more room for growth. The former five-star recruit will have the opportunity to be an everyday starter and develop more next season.

Best coach in the Big 12

“Playing for a God-fearing coach is one of the best things I can say for this organization,” Owens said.

Collen appears to have won over her group of athletes, and she’s now through two years at the helm. Collen believes she’s changed the identity of the Bears but has been trying to keep the same high-level standard in place.

“Anyone who knows me well knows there is not a more competitive person on the planet,” Collen said. “I don’t like to lose. I believe I can coach against anybody in the country. I don’t have confidence issues.”

In that same breathe, she said she knows there’s growth to be had in order to take that next step past the round of 32.

“This year was about continuing to grow,” Collen said. “It was about turning the page.”

Collen said that there’s a strong chance her squad competes at a high level next year thanks to the returners and potential additions.

“We won’t look exactly the same a year from a now, but I think we’ll be able to compete with anyone and that’s the plan,” Collen said.