Sports Take: Baylor basketball programs poised to make it past first weekend

By Zach Babajanof-Rustrian | Sports Writer

This season, both Baylor basketball teams have been at the top of the league, never dropping out of the AP Top 25. That track record will translate to the NCAA Tournament, with both teams bolting deep into March Madness.

The Bears have had a dominant season, with the men ending their year 23-11 overall and placing third in the Big 12 and No. 14 in the AP Top 25. Meanwhile, the women ended 24-7 and finished fifth in the Big 12 and No. 19 in the AP Top 25.

Baylor basketball has been a must-watch this season ever since both programs started the year undefeated (women 14-0, men 9-0) and took part in close roller-coaster-like games. While the Big 12 Tournaments didn’t go either team’s way, both squads appear ready for March Madness.

This will be the year in which both programs extend their season beyond the first weekend — for the first time since 2020-21.

On the men’s team, freshman guard Ja’Kobe Walter has shown why he was named Big 12 Freshman of the Year. Walter not only backed up the preseason distinction but also proved that his early-season success was no fluke.

The McKinney native had the most points by a freshman through five games in the Scott Drew era (96), and he currently averages 14.2 points per game.

On the women’s team, sophomore forwards Darianna Littlepage-Buggs and Bella Fontleroy have grown through their experience. After having outstanding freshman years, both have shown they understand how to play Baylor basketball. Littlepage-Buggs hauled down her 500th career rebound this season. To add more firepower, senior guard Aijha Blackwell also reached the 1,000 career-point mark this season.

Toward the latter half of the season, both teams saw bench players starting to shine and prove their spot in the rotation. Senior guard Jana Van Gytenbeek started to come into her own, helping the Bears pull out a win against No. 22 West Virginia in a nail-biting game on Feb. 24. In the Big 12 Tournament, senior forward Caleb Lohner tied for the most playing time he’s received all year (21 minutes), putting up 12 points against Iowa State in the semifinals on Friday.

With players on the bench starting to help pull out wins for the Bears, the teams are stacked now more than ever before.

The women’s team has so many different athletes that it can alternate and shine on the court. Between Van Gytenbeek and graduate student forward Dre’Una Edwards and starters like senior guard Sarah Andrews, Littlepage-Buggs and Fontleroy, head coach Nicki Collen has a stacked team.

Head coach Scott Drew also has a loaded roster. Thanks to leaders on the team such as senior guard RayJ Dennis, freshmen have adapted well and help make the men look promising going into March Madness. Plus, with returners such as sophomore forward Josh Ojianwuna, Baylor is prepared for the tournament.

Both teams are going in with a high morale, looking to take the field by storm with the goal of playing Baylor basketball. Once they make it through the round of 64 and the round of 32, the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight are going to be the Bears’ territory.

Baylor has a wonderful basketball program, and once it’s in game mode, it’s unstoppable. Between taking down top-five teams and having an amazing roster, nothing is stopping the Bears from making it to the Final Four at the State Farm Stadium in Phoenix (men) and the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland (women).