The fourth-ranked Baylor women have an opportunity to extend their win streak to 10 games when they host Kansas on Saturday at the Ferrell Center.
The game is the second in a two-game homestand for the Lady Bears (22-1, 9-1 Big 12) before they visit TCU and Texas Tech next week. It’s also the start of the midway point in conference play, as Baylor has now played every team in the Big 12 at least once.
Through one half of the slate, there isn’t much to complain about. Since a conference-opening loss to Oklahoma State on Dec. 30, Baylor hasn’t dropped a game and has assumed its usual spot atop the Big 12 standings.
Perhaps that loss wasn’t such a bad thing after all.
“We’re certainly disappointed that we lost to Oklahoma State there, but I keep that in perspective,” Lady Bears head coach Kim Mulkey said. “(Starting point guard) Niya Johnson didn’t play in that game, and she’s our engine that makes us go. Maybe losing to them is the reason we’re where we are today, too. So I kind of look at it that way. It’s like right off the bat, you got beat, and now let’s see if we can run the table and win a conference championship.”
So far, they’re headed in that direction. They’ve won all but one of their conference games by double digits, including their biggest margin of victory Wednesday — a 35-point romping of Kansas State.
With Kansas (5-17, 0-11) still looking for its first conference victory, Baylor is once again a heavy favorite in front of a home crowd at the Ferrell Center. The Lady Bears won, 58-40, in the first meeting in Lawrence, Kan.
Regardless, nobody is looking at the Jayhawks as a pushover.
“You wouldn’t know by watching them on film that they haven’t won a conference game, because they play hard,” Mulkey said. “It’s a new system for them. We don’t go in there and tell them, ‘oh, we have a team that hasn’t won a conference game.’ We go in there and show them what they’re going to guard. Show them what they’re going to see and who you’re going to guard, just like any game.”
Kansas is in its first year under head coach Brandon Schneider, who has more than 400 wins in his career after successful stints at Stephen F. Austin and Emporia State. The Jayhawks started the year 4-2 but have only notched one victory since then, an overtime triumph over Navy on Dec. 13.
Since then, it’s been a rough ride for Kansas as its players continue to get acclimated to Schneider’s coaching.
The Jayhawks have struggled to score in conference play, averaging a league-worst 44.2 points per game. Their .356 shooting percentage ranks last in the Big 12.
“Sometimes when you go into a program, kids don’t stay, and you bring in your own kids,” Mulkey said. “I know his background is west Texas. His dad (Bob Schneider of West Texas A&M) is a legendary coach from there. He’s going to work hard. He was successful at Emporia, he was successful at Stephen F. Austin, and I anticipate in time he’ll be successful there at Kansas. I wouldn’t look at his zero wins in this league — this league is brutal to break into.”
Lauren Aldridge leads the Jayhawks with 10.4 points per game and is the only player on the team averaging double figures. She was held scoreless against Baylor in the two teams’ first meeting, going 0 for 7 from the field and 0 for 4 from the 3-point line.
Caelynn Manning-Allen is the team’s main post threat, averaging 8.2 points and a team-best 5.6 rebounds per game.
Baylor was particularly stingy on defense against Kansas in the first meeting, holding the Jayhawks to 32 percent from the field and just 16 percent from the arc.
But as a team that has seen varying defenses this season as the rest of the Big 12 continues to figure out a way to slow down their offense, the Lady Bears expect new things from Kansas that might have not been revealed in the last matchup.
“We’re prepared for it,” Mulkey said. “We’re comfortable with everything that we see. Obviously, when we’re hitting perimeter shots it just opens things up for our bigs inside. That’s probably why we saw a lot of the zone, it’s because we’re so big inside. We can shoot it. The ones I have, we don’t shoot the numbers a lot of people do because we have such size inside, but we can shoot the 3 ball.”