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Preview: Can the Kansas State Wildcats defeat the Baylor Bears in Waco without Ayoka Lee?

No. 4 Kansas State has gotten off to a perfect start in Big 12 play, but they’ll be without their superstar center when they travel to Waco to take on No. 13 Baylor.

Kansas v Kansas State
Kansas State’s Zayanna Walker and head coach Jeff Mittie face a tough task in Baylor.
Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images

Two of the Big 12’s top programs will meet this Monday, Jan. 22 when the No. 4 Kansas State Wildcats (18-1; 7-0 Big 12) take on the No. 13 Baylor Bears (15-2; 4-2 Big 12). The game will be broadcast nationally on FS1, with tip-off scheduled for 8:30 p.m. ET.

It’s been a banner season thus far for Kansas State, and the Wildcats’ hot start makes Monday’s game a marquee matchup. At No. 4, Kansas State has reached it’s highest ranking in the Associated Press top 25 poll since 2003 (Across the Timeline), and the Wildcats have earned ever bit of that ranking. Kansas State has beaten three ranked teams (Iowa, North Carolina and Texas) and has won its first seven games in Big 12 play for the first time since head coach Jeff Mittie was hired in 2014.

Most recently, Kansas State defeated intra-state rival Kansas with a trademark defensive effort, allowing fewer than 60 points for the 12th consecutive game. This came without 6-foot-6 center Ayoka Lee, who the Wildcats recently announced would miss the next four weeks after a surgical procedure on her ankle.

Baylor, however, presents a significantly tougher challenge to Kansas State, especially with Lee on the mend. Though the Bears have already lost two Big 12 games (one to Kansas and one to Iowa State), their statistical resume is still extremely impressive. Baylor assists on 68.9 percent of its made shots, per Her Hoop Stats, and currently ranks 13 in the country in assist/turnover ratio at 1.39. The Bears are also beasts on the boards, pulling down 76.2 percent of available defensive rebounds (11th in Division I).

That rebounding, in particular, could be advantageous for Baylor with no Lee to go up against. The WNBA Draft prospect was grabbing 20 percent of available defensive rebounds on her own when she got injured, and life will also be easier for Baylor forwards Darianna Littlepage-Buggs, Dre’Una Edwards and Aijha Blackwell without having to contend with Lee’s dominant low-post play.

Even when not considering the battle in the frontcourt, Kansas State will have to account for one of the country’s top guard duos in Sarah Andrews and Jada Walker. The Baylor guards combine to average 21.6 points and 7.5 assists per game. Andrews also is one of the best shooters in the Big 12, knocking down two 3-pointers per game on 40.2 percent accuracy.

With this in mind, expect Kansas State to try to slow the game down with defenders like Serena Sundell and Jaelynn Glenn getting the assignments against Baylor’s guards. The Wildcats will surely miss Lee, but with a defense that’s allowing 72.5 points per 100 possessions (second in Division I), Kansas State still has enough of a defensive infrastructure to make things difficult for the Bears. Should the Wildcats pull out a win in Waco—something they have yet to do with Mittie at the helm—it will be their biggest victory yet and create even more buzz around a program that’s already on the rise.

Game information

No. 4 Kansas State Wildcats (18-1; 7-0 Big 12) vs. No. 13 Baylor Bears (15-2; 4-2 Big 12)

When: Monday, Jan. 22 at 8:30 p.m. ET

Where: Foster Pavillion in Waco, TX

How to watch: FS1