During the grind of a college basketball season, it helps to suffer from short-term memory loss.
Win a game, lose a game. Either way, let it marinate for a moment, then forget about it. You’ll have another one in a matter of days.
And that’s fine. Makes perfect sense, actually. But the Baylor Lady Bears should take games like Sunday’s 81-57 demolition over Stanford and the beatdown of Kentucky three days prior and store them somewhere in their long-term memory bank.
File them away. Use a Post-It note. Paste the memories into a scrapbook. Better yet, the Lady Bears should do whatever a millennial would do to remember something. Probably save the information on their phones.
Here’s why: Because four months from now, these are exactly the kinds of teams Baylor will see as they progress through the NCAA tournament. And remembering what worked this time could have lasting benefits for the next time.
“We’re pretty good. Don’t look at numbers,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. “Don’t make excuses for us.”
In her 18 years at the helm of the Baylor women’s basketball program, Kim Mulkey couldn’t recall it ever happening before.
Look, I get that it’s a heck of a lot harder to do it on a neutral court in March than it is on a home court in December. But under Mulkey, Baylor has always been a big-game team. In fact, I’ve always considered one of the most impressive statistical nuggets of the Mulkey Era at Baylor to be this: In her entire 18-year tenure, the Lady Bears have never lost more than one game in a season before the start of conference play.
And it’s not like the schedule has been all Directional State or the Little Sisters of the Poor. Baylor plays multiple nonconference games against the sport’s elite every season.
Here are the lingering lessons from games like the Kentucky or Stanford contests:
Defense travels. Granted, Baylor played both of these games in the friendly confines of the Ferrell Center, but here’s what I mean. If the Lady Bears employ their typical rugged defense — there’s a reason why one of the first columns on the stat sheet that Mulkey scans is the opponent’s field goal percentage — they’ll always find themselves in the game. Even on those nights when their shooting touch wavers.
Kalani’s a load. It really doesn’t matter who the opponent is. You expect Kalani Brown to overpower the posts from Coppin State or Central Arkansas. But Baylor’s 6-foot-7 junior post can be a wrecking ball even against the game’s best teams.
For proof, just look at her recent stat line. Against Kentucky and Stanford, Brown combined to shoot 77 percent (17 of 22) from the floor while scoring 41 points over the two games. Seventy-seven percent? That’s a layup drill.
If she is able to carve out deep post position, forget about it. There’s nothing you can do.
Although Mulkey said that Brown’s secret weapon isn’t her height or her skill or even that post position. “It’s her fingernails,” the coach said, taking hold of Kalani’s hand and showing off her apricot-painted nails while the player giggled like a schoolgirl.
Shooters, shooters everywhere. Baylor didn’t exactly light it up from the 3-point arc against Stanford. The Lady Bears connected on just 2 of 12 from deep. But just the threat of it opens up avenues for dumps into the paint or driving dashes to the hoop. Natalie Chou, Kristy Wallace, Juicy Landrum — all can tickle the net from deep. Even Baylor’s bigs — Brown and Lauren Cox — have the ability to step out and drain a long J.
Even after Sunday’s relatively subdued showing, Baylor is still shooting 44 percent from 3-point land. If that holds up — and, granted, that’s an if the size of the Ferrell Center’s massive over-the-court scoreboard — it would be a school record. (Baylor shot .408 on treys during its first national championship season of 2004-05.)
Baylor’s players need to remember who they are. Four months from now, they need to think back on the lessons from the UCLAs and Kentuckys and Stanfords of the world.
The Lady Bears can win big games. They’ve shown it. It’s just that over the past few seasons, they’ve won at least one fewer big game than they wanted, stalling out at the Elite Eight level of the NCAA tournament rather than reaching the incredibly high expectation of making the Final Four every year.
The Lady Bears will practice again Monday. They’ll be back on the court for another game on Tuesday, as North Dakota comes to town. It’ll be time to turn the page again, as Kentucky and Stanford will be but a memory.
Hopefully for the Lady Bears, not too distant of a memory.