By Michael Haag | Sports Editor
At this time last year, head coach Nicki Collen said she expected opposing teams to run zone defense on her team in November or early December. In fact, Collen said if she were on the opposing sideline, she’d do the same thing.
Except now she’s in her third year at the helm, and that mindset has flipped.
No. 13 Baylor women’s basketball attacked Oregon’s 2-3 zone and cruised to a 71-51 victory on Sunday afternoon in the Ferrell Center for the Bears’ fifth 20-point win of the season. Collen said her group is more comfortable attacking zone defenses early in the season because “this team can really shoot it.”
“We rarely put people on the floor that can’t shoot it,” Collen said. “I think it’s harder to scout us now. … I thought every time we got the ball to the high post, something good happened against their zone.”
Baylor (7-0) matched its best start to a season since 2019-20 with seven-straight wins to open the year. The Bears failed to score 80 or more points for the first time all year, but Collen said that shows this team can find other ways to win.
“I’ve said it before: I don’t want to be a program that is just about offense,” Collen said. “I don’t want people to say Baylor and think offense. I want people to hear Baylor and think elite. Elite means you can win however you need to win.”
Freshman forward Darianna Littlepage-Buggs led the squad in scoring for the second-straight game, as she poured in 18 points in 26 minutes of action. Littlepage-Buggs also had six rebounds and two steals.
Graduate student forwards Dre’Una Edwards (14) and Aijha Blackwell (10) followed Littlepage-Buggs as the only other Bears in double figures. Edwards has hit double-digit scoring in all but one contest this season.
Blackwell added a team-high 12 rebounds, which marked her first double-double of the year.
Not only were the Ducks (4-3) in a zone from the get-go, but they suffocated passing lanes and the paint with their length, particularly because of junior center Phillipina Kyei’s 6-foot-8 frame. Oregon sophomore forward Kennedy Basham, who stands at 6 feet, 7 inches, also saw minutes on Sunday.
Baylor had to find room to operate around the Ducks’ twin towers, which Littlepage-Buggs said presented a challenge.
“Obviously we’re not as tall as them, so it was kind of hard having to play over them,” the 6-foot-1 forward said. “You don’t really realize until you get in the game and then your overhead passes don’t work because they are so long.”
Littlepage-Buggs scored all eight of her first-half points in the first quarter, helping Baylor get out to a 21-12 lead. The Bears held a 13-4 advantage five minutes into the quarter, but the Ducks scored six of the next eight to trim their deficit. Baylor finished the period on a 6-0 run over the last minute to take the nine-point edge into the second.
The Bears outscored Oregon 16-12 in the second quarter, thanks to 10 combined bench points from junior guard Yaya Felder, senior forward Madison Bartley and sophomore forward Bella Fontleroy. Both teams traded buckets the entire period, as neither squad was able to score more than two unanswered field goals.
After a scoreless second quarter, Littlepage-Buggs led the team with eight third-quarter points on 4 of 7 shooting from the floor. It was another tight battle, as Baylor was only up 3 by the quarter’s end. The Bears went into the fourth with a 54-38 lead.
Oregon had trimmed its deficit to 62-50 with 5:20 left in the fourth, but a 7-1 run in which Baylor didn’t allow a single field goal the rest of the way gave the Bears the 20-point win. Baylor forced 20 Oregon turnovers — the fourth time the Bears have done that this season. They also also recorded 21 assists as a team on 28 made shots, which is the fourth time this season that Baylor has had at least 70% of its baskets assisted.
— Baylor Women's Basketball (@BaylorWBB) December 3, 2023
The Bears get a break for final exams and then jump back into nonconference competition against Delaware State on Dec. 14 in the Ferrell Center. That will be the last scheduled women’s basketball game in the Ferrell Center. The Bears own a 436-100 record in the place they’ve called home the last 35 years.
Blackwell said it feels good to be undefeated early in December but that the squad still has a bigger picture in mind.
“We just have to stay poised and just make sure we know that the job isn’t done,” Blackwell said. “It feels great to be 7-0, but we have a long season ahead, and we just have to stay poised, keep our head down and just keep working in practice.”