WACO, Texas — The Baylor women had just finished another lopsided Big 12 victory when coach Kim Mulkey asked reporters if any had picked Ohio State to win the first College Football Playoff national championship.
When none raised their hands, Mulkey quickly proclaimed that was her pick. She said several Baylor football players who expected Oregon to win, including her future son-in-law, could attest to that.
The discussion then turned to the season-best No. 3 national ranking for the Lady Bears, who have a 14-game winning streak not long after the departures of All-Americans Brittney Griner and Odyssey Sims.
“Golly, who votes on that, you sports writers that picked Oregon?” Mulkey said somewhat mockingly, before letting up a bit.
“Look, these kids know I love them. And half the stuff I tell y’all is totally different than what I tell them in that locker room. They’re good. They’re talented,” she said. “But we just kind of laugh it off, because really what have we done? We’ve won ball games, and that’s about it. They didn’t come here to win ball games. They came here to win championships.”
Yes, the four-time defending Big 12 champion Lady Bears (15-1, 4-0 Big 12) are still good without Griner and Sims, who combined throughout three seasons to post a 108-5 record and finish undefeated en route to the 2012 national championship.
— Kim Mulkey
Maybe even better.
“In a weird way, they might be a little bit harder to guard,” Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly said after a 79-47 loss at Baylor this week. “Brittney was Brittney and Odyssey was Odyssey. … But when you have 31 assists on 34 field goals, you’re sharing the ball, and they have a lot of people that can do just enough. They know their roles.”
The Lady Bears, who travel to Kansas on Saturday before playing No. 4 Texas at home two nights after that, suffered their only loss at No. 10 Kentucky in the second game of the season. Their only senior is their ninth-leading scorer.
Forward Nina Davis is one of three Baylor sophomores averaging in double figures, and she leads the team with 21.6 points and 8.3 rebounds a game. Junior Niya Johnson, Sims’ successor at point guard, is the national leader with 8.7 assists per game and a 3.6 assist-to-turnover ratio.
The Cyclones were coming off a win against Texas, then the No. 3 team, before playing the Lady Bears.
“A very, very impressive team, much more impressive in person than on video,” said Fennelly of Baylor, which had 11 players get at least 10 minutes, each scoring and getting at least one rebound.
“Who are you going to focus on our team?” Mulkey said. “We score in a lot of positions, and we score in a lot of ways.”
So much for opposing coaches who might have felt some relief in not facing the 6-foot-8 Griner or the playmaking, point-producing Sims, who as a senior last season, surrounded by new players, led the Lady Bears to another NCAA regional final.
“We didn’t start the year thinking, ‘Oh, we want to be in the top five in the country.’ We just wanted to maintain a level of consistency at the elite level,” Mulkey said. “I tend to think we’re probably an elite program. I don’t overemphasize it. But we hold our own. And we’re going to be pretty good one day.”
This article was written by Stephen Hawkins from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.