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Preview: No. 2 Baylor, No. 17 West Virginia battle for Big 12 supremacy in Waco on Saturday night

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The defending champion No. 2 Baylor Lady Bears have followed their historic win over the UConn Huskies with two blowouts of Big 12 opponents. They should face a tougher test in tonight’s matchup against the No. 17 West Virginia Mountaineers.

Baylor at Connecticut
Juicy Landrum and NaLyssa Smith fight for a rebound during Baylor’s big win over UConn. Will the Lady Bears bring the same intensity against the West Virginia Mountaineers?
Brad Horrigan/Hartford Courant/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

On Saturday night, the Big 12’s best will battle in Waco, Texas, as the No. 17 West Virginia Mountaineers (13-2) visit the No. 2 Baylor Lady Bears (14-1). The Mountaineers’ goal, of course, is to to steal a victory (8:00 p.m. ET, FS1).

Of late, upsets have been en vogue in women’s college basketball.

The Lady Bears are responsible for one of these rankings-rocking wins, with their superb streak-snapping victory against the Huskies in Storrs. Since then, Baylor has not suffered a let-down game, demolishing Oklahoma State on Sunday (94-48) and Kansas on Wednesday (90-47). The Mountaineers, in contrast, suffered an ugly upset on Wednesday night — a 73-49 loss to Oklahoma in an uninspiring home effort.

Can West Virginia rebound and cause Baylor to stumble on Saturday night? Or will the defending national champions continue to bully their way through the Big 12?

The Lady Bears boast the most impressive statistical profile in the nation: very-best scoring offense, second-best scoring defense and top point differential. These tallies are a testament to Baylor’s depth of situational stars. The Lady Bears are not dominated by a singular star. Instead, head coach Kim Mulkey has multiple players who can step up and turn in a star-level performance.

Last week, it was NaLyssa Smith’s time to shine. The sophomore earned Big 12 Player of the Week honors after averaging 20.5 points and 13.5 rebounds in wins over UConn and Oklahoma State.

Nonetheless, Te’a Cooper put in the most points against UConn, scoring a game-high 27 after she had dropped a season-high (and career-high) 32 against Oklahoma in the previous game. Juicy Landrum, in contrast, did not scratch in Storrs; yet, as she demonstrated with her historic 3-point shooting performance against Arkansas State, she can ignite on any night. DiDi Richards’s impact also tends to exceed the box score, as she showed during last season’s run to the national title. And, of course, there’s Lauren Cox. Since returning from an early season foot injury, Cox has been solid, but she has yet to have a big, breakout game.

So, West Virginia should beware.

Even as they have compiled a 13-2 record, the Mountaineers do not stand out in any statistical category. But when matched up against No. 10 Mississippi State, No. 19 Michigan State and a solid Texas team, West Virginia did enough to win. On Saturday, they will have to do more than just enough.

Expect head coach Mike Carey to turn to his talented, high-scoring backcourt of Kyrse Gondrezick and Tynice Martin. Against Oklahoma, West Virginia struggled to put points on the board because both guards suffered through incredibly inefficient scoring nights, managing only eights points each. However, before Wednesday’s stinker, Gondrezick, the redshirt junior guard who missed most of last season due to personal reasons, had been on a roll. The Mountaineers’ leading scorer had scored over 20 points in four consecutive games, all while also increasing her assist numbers. Martin, who turned in one of her most efficient, impressive performances of the season in last weekend’s win over Texas, possesses the size and athleticism need to compete with a team of Baylor’s quality.

If the pair is on point, it very well could propel West Virginia to the win — a win that would, once again, shake up the world of women’s college basketball.

Game information

No. 2 Baylor Lady Bears (14-1) vs. No. 17 West Virginia Mountaineers (13-2)

When: Saturday, Jan. 18, at 8:00 p.m. ET

Where: Ferrell Center, Waco, TX

How to watch: FS1