On Wednesday evening at 8 p.m. ET, the No. 7 Baylor Lady Bears (17-2, 12-1 Big 12) welcome the Oklahoma State Cowgirls (17-6, 13-4 Big 12) to Waco for a Big 12 battle.
At first glance, it seems like the Lady Bears are not quite themselves this season. That they sit outside the Top 5 in the national rankings and are a projected No. 3 seed, and No. 10 overall, in the NCAA tournament committee’s Top 16 appears to confirm that assessment. On Jan. 16, Baylor also dropped a home game to the Iowa State Cyclones, 75-71 — a defeat that snapped their 61-game home winning streak.
Yet, upon further analysis, the Lady Bears’ slightly-decreased national standing is a product of circumstances they could not necessarily control. In contrast to their counterparts in the Big Ten, Pac 12 and SEC, Baylor has not met multiple top 25-ranked opponents in conference play. Currently, the No. 18 West Virginia Mountaineers are the only other Big 12 team ranked in the Top 25. Additionally, a positive coronavirus test for head coach Kim Mulkey prevented the Lady Bears from potentially securing a signature, high-profile national win, as their Jan. 7 contest with the UConn Huskies, now ranked No. 1, was cancelled. Baylor’s loss to Iowa State also occurred immediately after their return from the COVID-induced pause.
Otherwise, the Lady Bears have pretty much taken care of business. Since their loss to the Cyclones, they have really been on a roll, highlighted by a thrashing of the Texas Longhorns, 60-35, on Feb. 14. That the NCAA’s NET rankings have Baylor at No. 4 also suggests they are being underestimated.
This second matchup with Oklahoma State, which received 16 votes in the Associated Press’ latest Top 25 poll, gives Baylor an opportunity to add a quality win to its resume.
On Jan. 20, the Lady Bears won in Stillwater, with senior guard Moon Ursin scoring a team-high 20 points to take down the Cowgirls, 77-58. According to Mulkey, junior forward NaLyssa Smith “might have had one of her finest games this year,” tallying a double-double of 18 points and 12 rebounds as she played the full 40 minutes.
Critically, the Lady Bear defense also forced Cowgirl senior forward, and top WNBA prospect, Natasha Mack into an inefficient night, even as she scored a game-high 21 points. Mack must be at her best against the Big 12’s best defense if her squad aims to hand the Lady Bears another home loss. In each of her last three games, Mack has scored 24 or more points. Not coincidentally, OK State has won three-straight games, adding to their program-best 13 conference wins.
Oklahoma State Cowgirls (17-6, 13-4 Big 12) vs. No. 7 Baylor Lady Bears (17-2, 12-1 Big 12)
When: Wednesday, Feb. 24 at 8 p.m. ET
Where: Ferrell Center in Waco, TX
What to watch for: Baylor and Oklahoma State are tops in the Big 12 at taking care of the ball. The Lady Bears sport a 1.37 assist-to-turnover ratio, while the Cowgirls’ ratio is 1.25. At the individual level, Baylor’s DiDi Richards and Moon Ursin are both in the top three in the conference in assists to turnovers, with Oklahoma State’s Ja’Mee Asberry ranking fifth. Whichever squad best disrupts their opponent’s offensive flow could gain a valuable advantage. For Baylor, DiJonai Carrington averages 2.3 steals per game. OK State’s Natasha Mack and Taylen Collins both snag an average of 2 steals per contest.