Walking through the concourse of the Ferrell Center and down to court level, the Baylor women’s basketball fans couldn’t contain their excitement. They were ready to see their Lady Bears back on the court for the first time this season. And the home team didn’t disappoint as Baylor topped Tarleton State, 122-44, in its first exhibition contest Tuesday night.
“I thought (the freshmen) did well,” Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey said. “Pretty much put them out there quickly. All four of them were on the floor at the same time. Sometimes that can be ugly. They were out there and they hustled. We had too many turnovers (16). It’s a good night when you can play everyone extensive minutes and get a feel for different combinations. I thought overall they did well.”
Every Lady Bear played at least 18 minutes Tuesday night. Mulkey put 14 different combinations on the floor.
“I got to look at a lot of combinations,” Mulkey said. “It’s fun when you win, obviously. What’s more enjoyable for me as a coach is when I see kids who had a role last year on a very good ball team that have a much different role this year. You can see we can score a lot of points. Those are coming from kids who didn’t have to score a lot of points last year.”
The Lady Bears missed only 21 shots as they finished shooting 70.8 percent from the floor. Every Baylor player scored as they each finished with at least a 50 percent field goal percentage individually.
Sophomore Natalie Chou led the way with 20 points, followed by senior Dekeiya Cohen with 19, junior Kalani Brown with 18, freshman Alexis Morris with 16, freshman Didi Richards with 12 and sophomore Lauren Cox with 11.
Richards said she was “pretty nervous” before her first game.
“I couldn’t feel my arms the beginning of the game,” Richards said. “After, I think it was a steal that Moon (Ursin) got, seeing another freshman do something got me going.”
The four freshmen – Ursin, Richards, Morris and Trinity Oliver – combined for 38 points offensively. On the defensive end, the quartet finished with eight of Baylor’s 13 steals.
“We can press with that lineup and we did, early in the first half,” Mulkey said. “We’re small in some capacities. But speed is not something you coach. You’re blessed with that. We’ve got two or three who can take it up a notch.”
Midway through the second quarter, Richards passed the ball to where she thought Morris was cutting and the ball bounced out of bounds. As the Lady Bears set up on the defensive end, Mulkey yelled to Cohen, “Calm them down.”
The senior did just that the following play when she picked the pocket of a TexAnn and finished with an and-one bucket.
“It was good,” Cohen said. “(The freshmen) are quick, so it was a fast-paced. We ran up and down a lot. Just getting them to settle down and run what coach Mulkey said to run was really all that I was asked to do because they were playing pretty good. Once we started running the offense, everyone scored, everyone hustled, everyone played defense.”
The entire second quarter, the Lady Bears went 11-for-12 from the floor, including a 2-for-2 mark behind the perimeter by Chou.
“That’s scoring the basketball,” Mulkey said. “I thought Natalie came out with a different mindset and really set the tone for our team because Natalie has a tendency to pass up good looks. She can’t do that anymore.”
Defensively, Baylor held Tarleton State to 44 points off 22 percent shooting from the floor. In the first quarter alone, the Lady Bears held the TexAnns to seven points. Mulkey wants to see her team improve its help-side defense.
“I thought the hustle was there,” Mulkey said. “We’re certainly not a finished product. … Help side we would get to the spot but really we were more focused about our man than the ball. We’ll improve that and get to the point where all five Baylor players are guarding the basketball.”
The Lady Bears finished with 12 blocked shots as Cox led the way with five of her own. Mulkey wants Cox to be careful in that aspect though as great players can get defenders in foul trouble when they hop around.
“Lauren’s going to block shots,” Mulkey said. “I just hope she blocks more than she fouls. She’s got some of that volleyball mentality. When she blocks it, she doesn’t block it like normal people. It’s almost like, bam, straight to the floor. You don’t want to take that away from her. (She) just has to be smart with it.”