It started in a group text message. Senior co-captains Kristy Wallace and Dekeiya Cohen, along with returning All-American Kalani Brown, were trying to figure out the slogan for the 2017-18 season. After throwing out different ideas and discussing them, the trio of upperclassmen came up with a message that would not only be a catchy group of words to put on a bracelet but would also unite a roster, tie into Kim Mulkey’s vision for the program, excite the countless Lady Bear fans across the country and remind them all of the goal for this season — rise as one.
“We think it suits our team,” Wallace said. “We want to be a good team. We want to be, essentially, one. No selfish players, which there are none on this team. We’re all for each other, and we need those players to rise to the occasion. We need them to step up and have good years.”
Getting everyone on the team to “rise to the occasion” means a bit more this season for Baylor with only 10 players on the roster. That means extended minutes across the board, and with big minutes come big opportunities. For the Lady Bears to be successful, each player needs to capitalize.
“Everybody is going to need everybody,” Brown said. “It’s going to take all 10 of us to make a good stretch this year and have a good year. So, that goes back to team chemistry as well.”
That team chemistry was on display through the first to exhibition games for Baylor as the Lady Bears assisted on 54 of their 98 buckets (55 percent). Beyond the numbers on the stat sheet, what can’t be quantified is the selflessness each Lady Bear shows for her teammate. From a nifty Wallace pass (she had plenty against Washburn) to freshman Alexis Morris scoring a layup in transition, to Natalie Chou nailing a 3-pointer, from Lauren Cox and her emphatic blocks to the freshmen racking up the steals and Juicy Landrum getting the offense going, the Baylor bench went crazy every time. That’s a picture of this team’s chemistry as teammates celebrate the success of one another.
“We jell well on the court together,” Brown said. “Every moment is hyped. So when someone scores, we’re all for each other. I think that’s going to take us a long way.”
That journey starts Friday night as the Lady Bears tip off their regular season at 7 p.m. against Lamar. After Baylor topped its exhibition opponents by a combined score of 239-77, Mulkey says the Lady Bears are “nowhere ready” for things to get started.
“We’re not polished,” the Baylor head coach said. “The season is here. We play a Lamar team that is quick, a Lamar team that is picked to win its league. We better guard dribble penetration. The defense they throw at you they like to press and run and jump.
“They play a little bit of zone with a 2-2-1 press. They’re very well coached. I’ve watched them on film and they do some good stuff. They don’t have the size that we have. They’re a very good basketball team.”
Friday’s season opener is the first of three games in five days for the Lady Bears. And with only 10 players on the roster, fatigue can be a concern. As Cox described it, it can be a good thing and a bad thing.
“We’ll see some different stuff,” Cox said. “At the same time it can wear us out. It’s a lot of games back-to-back. You’ll definitely see some fatigue in those games. We just have to push through it.”
For players like Chou and Cohen, who Mulkey has described multiple times as the most consistent player so far in practice, their minutes could increase because of their versatility on the floor. Cohen, at 6-foot-2, can play the three and the four for Baylor. Chou, at 6-foot-1, can play any position on the court.
“It’s not easy,” Mulkey said. “Dekeiya and I just talked about this. It’s a headache for me on the players I need to rotate in and out because at the end of the day i have to have people on the floor in crunch time who can help us win a ball game. … The freshmen we’ll try to mix in there.”
Through the first two exhibition games, Mulkey was pleased with what she saw from the four freshmen — Morris, Didi Richards, Trinity Oliver and Moon Ursin. Richards, who started against Washburn, was applauded by Mulkey afterwards for the way her defensive intensity sparked the rest of her teammates.
“I’ve been pleased to this point on effort, on actually the knowledge of the freshmen,” Mulkey said. “A couple of freshmen I don’t have to repeat a lot of things to. It makes it enjoyable to go out on the floor and see how quickly they pick up on stuff.”