Only three games into the Big 12 season, and the Kansas women have already matched last year’s conference win total. After the best start through nonconference play in the Brandon Schneider era, the Jayhawks lost a close one at Iowa State in overtime before topping TCU at home and picking up the first Big 12 road win under Schneider at Texas Tech earlier this week.
“Kansas is a much-improved team, and they’re playing with a lot of confidence,” Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey said. “They’ve recruited a lot of junior college players that have lots of college experience. Every game is important. And I hope that we can continue to play as well as we have.”
Baylor looks to open conference play at 4-0 for the sixth time in the last eight seasons as the sixth-ranked Lady Bears travel to Lawrence to take on Kansas at 2 p.m. Saturday.
“Since it’s the beginning, it’s really important to set a tone for the rest of conference,” senior Dekeiya Cohen said. “We have to get out here and take care of our business.”
Baylor has started conference play in dominant fashion. Baylor is outscoring its Big 12 opposition, 91.3 to 52, while holding the advantage on the boards, 137-82. The Lady Bears are shooting 54.8 percent from the floor while limiting their opponents to merely 32.4 percent. And Baylor has owned the paint this season behind the play of junior Kalani Brown and sophomore Lauren Cox.
“Get the ball to the bigs,” freshman Alexis Morris said. “Get it to Kalani. Get it to Lauren. Let them work. If they start stopping our post players, then the guards will step up and we’ll start making plays.”
That was the case on Wednesday, as the Lady Bears sank a dozen 3-pointers against Iowa State, one shy of the program’s single game record of 13. Four Baylor players are shooting better than 40 percent from behind the 3-point line – sophomore Juicy Landrum (50), sophomore Natalie Chou (44.3), senior Kristy Wallace (52) and Morris (52.6).
“I’m just getting more comfortable and learning how to play with my teammates,” Morris said. “It’s hard coming in as a freshman from high school and being able to run a team with everything. Now I just have to realize that I have help in every aspect. I have Kristy who can help me handle the ball. I have post players who can finish. I’m just getting into a rhythm. I’m getting comfortable.”
Morris is one of five Lady Bears averaging in double figures this season. Her 10.4 points per game ties Wallace. Brown leads the way at 21.5 points per game, followed by Cox and Dekieya Cohen with 15.4 and 10 points, respectively. Chou isn’t far behind with 9.8 points per contest.
That offensive firepower will face one of the toughest defenses in the country at Kansas. The Jayhawks are tied for sixth nationally in field goal percentage defense, holding their opponents to 33.5 percent shooting from the floor.
“They’re pretty quick,” Cohen said. “They don’t have any really big post players, so I think everybody’s capable of guarding inside or out for the most part. We just have to attack them, obviously shoot the ball and pound the ball inside to try and take advantage of their post players.”
While the Jayhawks have been great on the defensive end, they’ve been led offensively by their backcourt. Cristalah Lyons is one of two Kansas players to average double digits as the 5-foot-5 junior is averaging 14.8 points per game off 43.8 percent shooting from the field. She’s joined by Brianna Osorio, who put up career best numbers in a win over Texas Tech. The 5-foot-8 junior finished with a career-high 19 points and sank four 3-pointers.
“We better stop dribble penetration,” Mulkey said. “Everyone on that team can take you off the dribble. They’ve shot more free throws than we have in the three conference games, which is a concern. They’re obviously not as big as we are, but they’re bigger than they have been. And they’re playing with a great deal of confidence.
“They probably should be 3-0 in conference. If you look at the loss that they had (Iowa State), they had a chance to win that as well.”