Coming up with the formula to beat the Baylor women, opposing coaches have mentioned a myriad of things, from the necessity of a miracle (Iowa State’s Bill Fennelly) or perfection. Several of those coaches have mentioned the latter, most recently Oklahoma State head coach Jim Littell.
After No. 3 Baylor took down his No. 23 Cowgirls, 77-64, on Wednesday night, Littell compared Kim Mulkey’s Lady Bears to Vince Lombardi’s Packers. Lombardi led Green Bay to three straight and five total NFL Championships in seven years in addition to winning the first two Super Bowls. Under Mulkey, Baylor has won national championships in 2005 and 2012, advanced to the Elite Eight the last four seasons, won seven straight and eight total Big 12 regular season titles and eight Big 12 tournament titles.
“What they do is not complex. What they do is simple,” Littell said. “They run six plays, and they run them to perfection. They’re just very solid about what they’re doing.”
In 31 categories listed on NCAA.com, Baylor is top five in the country in 12 of those categories. Entering Saturday’s game against Texas Tech in Lubbock, the Lady Bears are second in both field goal percentage (51.1 percent) and scoring offense (87.5 points per game).
While plenty of attention has gone to the front court tandem of Kalani Brown and Lauren Cox — as it should with the pair combining for 40 percent of the Lady Bears’ offense and each one up for individual national awards — there is a scoring threat at every position for Baylor. And that’s part of what makes Brown and Cox so dangerous.
Alone, its a feat to contain 6-foot-7 Brown and 6-for-4 Cox. It’s even harder to limit their points when there’s no one to help out or to send a second or third defender inside. And then, going the other way, because of their success, the Lady Bears on the perimeter get good looks at the basket.
Take Dekeiya Cohen, for example. She’s averaging 10.3 points per contest, but her defender will sometimes leave her to help on the Baylor posts. Most recently, against Oklahoma State, she made the Cowgirls pay. She was the spark to Baylor’s offense early, nailing several jump shots. The senior is shooting 52.3 percent from the floor and has put up double figures in six of the last nine games she’s played.
Then there’s Natalie Chou. Sure, the sophomore has been in a bit of a slump. But she has started to break out of it. By driving to the basket, Chou broke through to get in the scoring column for the first time at West Virginia since Baylor’s game at Oklahoma. And since that contest on Jan. 14, Chou hadn’t hit a 3-pointer until she nailed two big-time triples in the fourth quarter against Oklahoma State to get some separation against the Cowgirls.
And at the point, there’s Kristy Wallace, ESPN’s reigning National Player of the Week. She has rattled off double-figure scoring in five of Baylor’s last seven games.
“They have some very unique things about their basketball team that’s going to allow them to go a long way,” Littell said. “First of all, they’ve got a 6-foot-7 incredible player, incredible athlete that scores on the box at about 68 percent. ... Then they lead our conference in 3-point shooting. They don’t shoot a lot, but when you cheat off and go help on Kalani or Lauren Cox, they make you pay. Wallace and Chou make you pay, and Cohen was very good tonight.”
If Baylor’s shots don’t fall, which they didn’t against Oklahoma State, Baylor gets plenty of second, and even third, opportunities. The Lady Bears have missed 688 shots this season but pulled in 331 offensive rebounds. That’s 48 percent of Baylor’s misses that it gets back. And so far, 20 percent of the Lady Bears’ offense comes from second-chance opportunities.
Against the Cowgirls, Baylor went 9-for-16 on extra opportunities to finish with 23 second-chance points.
“Well, we should have second-chance points,” Mulkey said. “We’re that big. What we can’t get because we’re out of position we can swat away. We got a lot of those.”
Add to this offensive prowess — whether on its first attempt at the basket or an extra second or third — is Baylor’s defense. The constant that remains no matter whether they’re inside the Ferrell Center or out on the road.
West Virginia made shots against the Lady Bears for three quarters, but Baylor’s defense stood tall in the fourth to hold the Mountaineers scoreless the final four-and-a-half minutes of the contest to get the road win. This BU defense has held every opponent to at or under its field goal percentage this season.
After facing this balanced combination for the first time this season, Littell proclaimed that he believes Baylor is a Final Four team.
“I think they’re solid at the guard position,” Littell said. “I think they have all the ingredients to make a long run. The only thing may be the depth situation. That’s the only thing I see that could be a weakness for them. The thing about that is when you don’t have much depth is you’re playing your starters all the time. They’re pretty dang good, so I don’t know if that’s a weakness when they’re playing all the time.”