It’s a new season, but the Baylor Lady Bears’ tenacious defense hasn’t lost its edge.
Baylor shut out its opening opponent New Hampshire in the first quarter, ensuring that the Wildcats never threatened to spoil an evening that included honoring last season’s national championship.
The Lady Bears, ranked No. 2 in the Associated Press preseason poll, paraded to a 97-29 victory over New Hampshire on Tuesday night at the Ferrell Center.
Baylor harassed New Hampshire into missing its first 18 shots from the field and the Wildcats didn’t score until there was 6:15 left in the second quarter. By that time, the Lady Bears led 37-2 and were in firm control of the outcome.
“Same philosophy: pressure the ball,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. “Tremendous team defense. … I thought we did fine.”
It was a fitting defensive performance, since Baylor built its national championship run last season on strong defense.
Before the game, the Lady Bears took time to celebrate their third NCAA tournament title.
With the arena lights turned out, the Baylor players, coaches and support staff walked through a temporary neon-lit tunnel onto the court to receive their championship rings. The ceremony included videos from Kalani Brown and Chloe Jackson, both of whom thanked the Baylor fans, their coaches and teammates. The two 2018-19 seniors were unable to attend the ring celebration because of professional obligations.
After the rings were handed out, the Big 12 regular season and tournament championship banners were spotlighted. That was followed by a video that highlighted the NCAA tournament run as the national championship banner was unveiled.
“That was as good as it gets,” Mulkey said. “The video was awesome. We had our head regent here Jerry Clements presenting the rings along with (athletic director) Mack Rhoades. I thanked them for being here to do that. And the fans, they had to come early to see it. Everything about the night was good.”
A few minutes after the ring and banner ceremony, Baylor sent out its starting five – grad transfer point guard Te’a Cooper along with returning players Lauren Cox, Juicy Landrum, DiDi Richards and NaLyssa Smith.
That group ruled the early going, establishing an 18-0 lead before Mulkey brought in anyone off the bench.
Smith got it started with a steal on the defensive end that she converted into a fast break layup. Cox followed with three straight baskets in the paint, plus a free throw.
Cox, the Big 12 preseason player of the year and an AP preseason All-American, finished with 11 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks. But the Lady Bears spread the wealth in the season opener.
Smith, a sophomore who was one of Baylor’s first players off the bench last season, had the most impressive start to the season as she scored 21 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in 21 minutes of action.
“It felt good,” Smith said. “I got my rhythm going just to see the ball go in the basket. I felt a lot more comfortable. I have to start this year, so my teammates are depending on me just like they were last year.”
Grad transfer center Erin DeGrate scored 18 points and forward Queen Egbo scored 14 points with four blocks.
All 11 Lady Bears on the roster scored in the game as they notched the program’s 30th straight victory and 40th consecutive at home.
Baylor pushed ahead 51-3 at the break as New Hampshire shot 4 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes.
The Wildcats loosened up after the break, shooting 27 percent in the final 20 minutes. Guard Amanda Torres led New Hampshire with 11 points.
In the postgame press conference, Cox was asked if the Lady Bears (1-0) were hoping to shut out the Wildcats for the entire first half.
“We’re just playing defense out there,” Cox said. “If that would have happened, it would have happened. We’re just out there playing hard.”