When it comes to exhibition contests, Kim Mulkey knows that the scoreboard doesn’t matter as much as it does once the regular season tips off — which it does for the Lady Bears Nov. 10 against Lamar. But when Baylor takes the floor at 7 p.m. Tuesday inside the Ferrell Center for its first exhibition contest of the 2017-18 season against Tarleton State, the Lady Bears will play to win.
“I just want to see (our) combinations,” the Baylor head coach said. “We know returning players, what you get. … I think Dekeiya, since we’ve started, has been our most consistent player in practice. It’s obvious Kalani (Brown) had a great sophomore year. Can she maintain that level of play? And Kristy (Wallace) and Kalani both played a lot of basketball this summer. We’ll see (Lauren) Cox and Natalie (Chou), those guys’ roles have changed. Juicy’s (Landrum) role has changed. We’ll see how many of the freshmen can help (us) early.”
Tuesday evening will be the first chance for Lady Bear fans to see the No. 2 recruiting class in the nation — Alexis Morris, Trinity Oliver, Didi Richards and Moon Ursin. Mulkey said in a press conference Friday afternoon that Morris is projected to start in the backcourt alongside Wallace. So far, Mulkey has been “pleasantly surprised” at how quickly the four freshmen are catching onto things during practice.
“Their energy, their want to do better and help the team is really amazing,” Mulkey said. “Sometimes freshmen can be intimidated. This bunch isn’t. They’re some of your livelier players. They make you laugh. They’re also some of your best recruiters. They’re good. It’s just a matter of blending in with those who were here last year.”
This year’s freshman class makes up 40 percent of Baylor’s roster. The Lady Bears are only 10 deep this year, which Mulkey sees as a positive. It allows everyone an opportunity to play. They just have to stay away from injuries, something that the Lady Bears can’t control.
What they can control, though, is effort. And Mulkey has seen lots of effort so far. The freshmen are already learning from one of the best in that area in Wallace, who is known nationwide for the plethora of hustle plays she’s made during her career in Waco.
Wallace gears up for her senior season at Baylor after spending her summer playing for Australia in the inaugural U24 Four Nations Tournament in Tokyo (runners-up) and the 2017 World University Games in Chinese Taipei (champions).
“I feel good,” Wallace said. “I was lucky enough to play overseas a little bit this summer. I’m ready to go. I’m excited to be back here with a good group of girls. I’m ready to get this season going, for sure.”
Wallace is co-captain for the Lady Bears this year alongside senior Dekeiya Cohen. Mulkey is hopeful Cohen has a great senior year as the 6-foot-2 forward is expected to play inside and outside this season for Baylor.
“Her comfort level is probably inside,” Mulkey said. “Because of her experience, her being a senior, she’s got to prepare to possibly play both positions. She’ll prepare and play, probably, a lot of minutes because if you’re going to play both positions, you never know where I’m going to need you.”
The Lady Bears also return last year’s leading scorer in Brown who averaged 15.4 points per contest off 67.9 percent shooting from the floor. Brown was selected as Bi 12 Preseason Player of the Year by league coaches.
“I know I have to keep up that level of play and keep doing what I’ve been doing and get better at it,” Brown said. “These (Wallace and Cohen) are our captains this year. Coach is expecting me to be a leader as well.”
Rounding out this season’s Lady Bear squad are sophomores Lauren Cox, Natalie Chou and Juicy Landrum. While sophomores are usually considered underclassmen, Mulkey said this trio will be considered upperclassmen on this year’s team.
“Two of the three got a lot of minutes,” Mulkey said. “Juicy didn’t get as many minutes. My impression of Juicy is that it’s taken her a bit longer. She had a good day (Thursday). If I see progress everyday, that tells me you’re putting in extra work. I think Natalie and Cox got enough minutes to know what it feels like to be on that floor in an NCAA Tournament game and Big 12 championship game. … Those three can play.”
And they’ll play a lot, starting Tuesday evening in the exhibition contest against Tarleton State, which won the Lone Star Conference Championship last year and was picked to finish third in conference standings this season based on a vote of head coaches, sports information directors and media representatives.
The TexAnns are led by last year’s LSC Newcomer of the Year and LSC Preseason Player of the Year in sophomore forward Mackenzie Hailey. She averaged 16.1 points and 8.4 boards. Tarleton State returns two more starters, senior guard Tiara Tatum and sophomore guard Kylie Collins, who averaged 8.3 points and 2.9 points per game, respectively.
At halftime, kids 14 and under can trick-or-treat in the Stone Room, located inside the Ferrell Center, and participate in an in-arena costume contest judged by mascots Bruiser and Marigold.