Baylor’s been doing it all season. Quietly, at times as Kim Mulkey put it after the game, but taking care of the basketball has been a consistent strength of the second-ranked Lady Bears all year.
That strength was sure to be tested as West Virginia came to town Sunday evening, a team that leads the Big 12 with 10.4 steals and 19.5 forced turnovers per game. But against that Mountaineer pressure, the Lady Bears followed the lead of their point guard Chloe Jackson as Baylor finished with only eight turnovers on the night en route to a 79-47 victory to move to 5-0 in conference play.
“That starts with Chloe Jackson and then Juicy (Landrum) and DiDi (Richards),” Mulkey said. “I don’t know, I’d have to go back and look. Last I checked, somebody told me we were leading the country in assist-to-turnover ratio. Guys, that’s pretty special. If you take care of the ball in any sport, you’re going to win a lot of games. And when you turn it over, you give the opponent a chance. We’ve been doing it all year. That’s pretty good when you’ve got a kid that’s never played point guard. And you look at the stat sheet, and she just continues to lead your team.”
Jackson, in her first season at point guard, finished with a career-high 10 assists on Sunday. The senior came into the West Virginia matchup second in the league with 6.2 assists per game.
“When I found out, I was kind of like, wow, I didn’t know that,” Jackson said about her 10 dimes. “But we did really well assisting everybody. We had good movement, and everybody was finishing at the rim. Post players were running, so you’ve got to get them the ball. That made it easier for me just finding them, and they were knocking down shots.”
As a team, Baylor finished shooting 50 percent from the floor, the highest percentage allowed by West Virginia all season. Of the Lady Bears’ 33 made buckets, six were layups as 21 more were in the lane right at the basket.
“Against good teams, you’re going to have to have ball reversal,” Mulkey said. “You’re going to have to be patient. We relaxed and just started doing what we’ve been doing all year. Just get ourselves good looks, good shots. I thought posts running the floor. I thought Kalani (Brown) ran the floor early, and that just kind of set the tone and we got a lot of outlet passes. That one pass (Lauren) Cox threw, looked like Bill Walton back in the day.”
Kalani Brown led the Lady Bears with 17 points as the senior center worked to get great position inside on every possession. Brown came out of the game for about 30 seconds four minutes into the game, and once she came back in, she was nearly unstoppable.
“(Mulkey) said I had to finish shots,” Brown said. “I said OK, so when I got my chance to get back in, I just tried to finish shots. She has a way of motivating me. When she yells at me it’s motivating, too.”
Added Mulkey: “We just have to have a little come to Jesus talk. … Sometimes I bring her out if I think … she had the one turnover to Cox, missed a layup or two and sometimes you just take her out to relax them. Then it’s just, ‘Get your butt back in there and make layups.’ It’s nothing harsh, but just make her think about it, get in there and do your job.”
Lauren Cox and Juicy Landrum followed with 13 points each, while the freshman duo of NaLyssa Smith and Queen Egbo added 11 and 10 points respectively.
“Those two post players are unbelievable offensive rebounders,” Mulkey said of Smith and Egbo who had three and seven offensive boards respectively. “They run the floor hard, and they’re just so athletic.”
After the first quarter, Baylor led the Mountaineers by only five points. The separation for the Lady Bears came in the second quarter when Baylor outscored West Virginia, 27-9, and held the visitors to 30.8 shooting from the floor.
“I think our depth (was key),” Mulkey said. “…And I just thought our defense on (Naomi) Davenport and (Tynice) Martin, we knew what they were capable of doing and that they were going to take the majority of their shots. I just said make sure you deny them the ball and when they get it make sure it’s tough. Make sure every shot they make is a difficult one.”
Martin led West Virginia with 18 points, while Davenport had 11.
Defensively, Baylor held the Mountaineers to a season low 47 points as West Virginia shot 30.8 percent from the floor. WVU head coach Mike Carey after the game said that Baylor is as good as anybody in the country.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if they went on to win the championship,” Carey said. “They’re that deep. As long as the guards continue to play as good as they are, they’re going to be a tough out.”
Mulkey appreciated those kind words but knows that it’s still early in the season.
“Mike is a very good coach,” Mulkey said. “His kids allow him to get on them and coach them. He’s a man-to-man coach, he’s old school. He’s always been very complimentary of our team. Walking through the line, he said some nice things. We’re most appreciative and humbled by his comments, but we’re going to keep working. We’re not entitled to anything. We have to work for everything we get.”