Sports Take: No. 21 Baylor women’s basketball is big-time contender

Graduate student forward Aijha Blackwell (left) and senior guard Sarah Andrews (right) celebrate during then-No. 19 Baylor women's basketball's exhibition game against Hardin-Simmons on Nov. 3 in the Ferrell Center. Lilly Yablon | Photographer

By Jackson Posey | Sports Writer

As a wise philosopher once said, “Back like they never left.”

Baylor women’s basketball is one of the most storied programs in the country. The three-time NCAA Champions won 12 consecutive Big 12 titles starting in 2010-2011. That streak came to an end last season, and for the first time since 2014-15, the Texas Longhorns entered this season as favorites to win the Big 12.

But that all changed on Tuesday.

The No. 21 Bears thoroughly outplayed No. 4 Utah, setting the student-attendance record in the process and securing an 84-77 upset over the Utes on Tuesday in the Ferrell Center. It wasn’t just a win; it was a dismantling. Utah, which entered the game shooting 40% from three on 42.5 attempts per game, never led. Baylor’s aggressive closeouts and no-threes defense held its opponents to 6 of 24 from beyond the arc.

The Bears got some help from the referees early on, as Utah preseason All-American Alissa Pili caught two foul calls in the game’s opening minutes. But foul trouble alone doesn’t explain away graduate student forward Dre’Una Edwards’ dominance (seven points and two assists in three minutes) or the home team only missing two free throws. This game wasn’t lost by Utah; it was won by the Bears.

Baylor showed off its depth, which ranks among the best in the nation after raiding the transfer portal this offseason. Four players scored in double digits for the Bears, and three more registered at least seven. Six players recorded multiple assists, and only two finished with a negative plus-minus.

The key to depth isn’t just talent; superfluous talent is just injury insurance. But the Bears have the type of complementary talent it takes to match up well against different kinds of opponents. Need more size in the post? Bring in Belmont transfer and senior forward Madison Bartley or 6-foot-7-inch freshman forward Lety Vasconcelos. Need some scoring punch? Ohio transfer and junior guard Yaya Felder led the MAC in scoring last season. Spacing? Try 2022 All-Big 12 Freshman Team member and sophomore guard Denae Fritz.

The functional depth of this roster is a game changer, but the real value comes from the stars at the top. Senior guard Sarah Andrews is still getting healthy, but she shot 4 for 6 from 3-point range and drained all six free throws. Sophomore forward Darianna Littlepage-Buggs was three points away from a double-double. Graduate student forward Aijha Blackwell shot 6 for 6 from inside the arc with eight rebounds. Junior guard Jada Walker made the team’s lockdown perimeter defense possible. And of course, Edwards’ combination of strength and fluidity is also a game changer.

There are still a lot of questions for this team to answer. How do you perform on the road? What happens when the attrition of Big 12 play hits? How consistent can the starters be from beyond the arc? But those feel like nitpicks given the magnitude of the moment. Head coach Nicki Collen called the victory “the best home win” of her college coaching career. And the arrow is pointed straight up.

Baylor women’s basketball looks like a battleship right now. If the team plays within itself, there aren’t many clear weaknesses to exploit. And the Bears are only getting better.

If Baylor continues to play the way it did Tuesday night, there’s little doubt last year’s struggles will feel like nothing more than a blip on the radar.