Baylor Presents Formidable, Not Impossible Challenge

This week has been a celebration of Oregon women’s basketball as the Duck advanced to their first ever Final Four.

But at 4 pm PST, Baylor couldn’t care less about that. The Bears have been here before and they’ll mean business when that ball is tipped in the air.

Under coach Kim Mulkey, Baylor will be out to win its third ever national title, while the Ducks will be looking to advance to the title game for the first time in its program’s history.

Baylor might have that history, but history doesn’t win games. Talent does and Oregon brings plenty of talent to the table.

The Ducks proved they belong with the big girls last Sunday when they took down a 33-2 Mississippi State team in the Elite 8. Oregon’s offense and Sabrina Ionescu was just too much for the Bulldogs to handle. Baylor is similar to Mississippi State in personnel and the game plan is going to be quite similar as well.

Oregon hopes the results turn out the same too.

Mississippi State had one dominate post player in Teaira McCowan, but Baylor has two of them. Kalani Brown stands at 6-7, the same height McCowan is listed at, but Brown is more mobile than her MSU counterpart. She averages 15 points and seven rebounds a game for the 35-1 Baylor team.

Those numbers seem pedestrian, however, but Brown doesn’t need to do it all. Teammate Lauren Cox is 6-4 and will knock down the three if need be. The junior averages nearly 12 points a game and eight boards.

Those two are joined by Chloe Jackson and Juicy Landrum, who each score over 11 points per contest. Jackson leads the Bears in assists with 192 dimes for the season or 5.5 assists a game. Didi Richards (147), Landrum and Jackson all have over 100 assists this season. By comparison, Sabrina Ionescu racked up 305 assists this season.

But make no mistake about it. The Bears’ offense runs through Brown and Cox.

“The good thing is that we just got done playing a powerful post player,” Oregon coach Kelly Graves said. “She’s (Brown) is more mobile around the basket and can hit that mid-range shot. She’s a lot more skilled. Then you have Lauren Cox who does the same thing. They kind of play volleyball where they just throw it up and over people. We have our work cut out for us, there’s no question.”

Ruthy Hebard and some combination of Satou Sabally, Oti Gildon and Erin Boley will have to defend Brown and Cox. Graves said it’s going to be a tough assignment his team.

“It’s going to take 40 minutes of extreme effort and concentration. “She’s (Ruthy Hebard) has her work cut out for her,” he said. “They’re tremendous players and All-Americans.”

Baylor went undefeated in Big XII play and ironically, its only loss came in the same place where the Ducks perhaps played their best game of the season.

The Bears went into Maples Pavilion Dec. 15 and Stanford handed Baylor a 68-63 defeat. Oregon went into that same building and beat the Cardinal by 40 points.

That blow out in Palo Alto might have been a little bit of a fluke as nearly everything went right for Oregon and absolutely nothing did for Stanford.

What it did show, however, that with extreme effort and possibly a three-ball going down at the right times, Baylor can be beat. If so, then something truly special could happen on Sunday.

~ Don Smalley