The Baylor women’s basketball team returns five starters from a team that went 40-0 and won the national championship last year. This season, the Lady Bears are ranked No. 1 at 15-1 overall and 5-0 in the Big 12 Conference. They’ve won 13 straight, beating teams by an average of 30.1 points per game.
Baylor leads the Big 12 in both scoring (79.2 points per game) and defense (50.4). That is the task confronting WVU (11-5, 3-2) as it travels to Waco, Texas, for the third meeting between the two schools and the first Big 12 Conference matchup.
“They are No. 1 in the country for a reason,” West Virginia coach Mike Carey said Friday prior to the trip. ”They start four seniors and one junior. They’ve got experience and they’ve got great players. They certainly deserve to be No. 1 in the country.”
Baylor’s Brittney Griner is the reigning women’s college basketball player of the year. The 6-foot-8 senior leads the league in scoring (21.6) and field-goal percentage (.595) and ranks second in blocked shots (2.69).
“They run a lot of high/low for Griner,” said Carey, whose team has won three consecutive conference games. “They don’t have to run much more than that because she is so good and has such a physical advantage. They play great defense because they funnel everything to Griner. She just waits right there at the rim for you.”
The Mountaineers played a second-round NCAA tournament game at Baylor two seasons ago. The Lady Bears won 82-68.
“We got off to a slow start in that one,” said Mountaineers senior center Ya Ya Dunning. “But I liked our effort in the second half. We competed and fought. If we can put 40 minutes together, we’ll have a better game this time.”
And as for dealing with Griner inside?
“I have to keep moving,” Dunning said. “We need to try and draw her away from the basket as much as we can. And when I get it down low, I need to try and use the rim to try and ward her off if I can.”
It’s not just Griner the Mountaineers have to be concerned with. Baylor junior Odyssey Sims is considered one of the top point guards in the country, averaging 12.3 points and 5.6 assists per game.
“She is fast, aggressive and she plays hard,” WVU guard Linda Stepney said of Sims. “I just have to match her intensity. We’ve just got to go in there and believe we can win.”
The Mountaineers have never beaten a top-ranked team in 14 previous tries, though WVU did upset then-No. 2 Notre Dame 65-63 in South Bend last season.
“We’ve done this before,” Carey said. “We’ve played at Connecticut. We’ve played at Notre Dame. We just have to draw on all of those previous experiences.”
“I’m excited for this game and I think the players are excited,” Carey said. “They’ve got an opportunity to play the No. 1 team on their home floor with an opportunity to knock them off. We’ve got to play inspired.”
Tip time Saturday night is 8 p.m. from the Ferrell Center on the Baylor campus. The Bears will return the visit to WVU on March 2.