Welcome back to earth. For the first time in years, the Baylor women’s basketball team looks beatable.
It remains to be seen, however, if that’s a good thing for Kansas State, which travels to Waco, Texas, on Wednesday to play a reeling Bears team coming off back-to-back losses for the first time since 2010.
One of those losses came at home to No. 1 UConn — there’s no shame in that — even though it did snap Baylor’s 69-game home winning streak. The other loss, though, was Sunday in Lawrence, a 76-60 defeat by a Jayhawks team that had just one Big 12 win entering the game.
The bottom line is that while the Bears don’t look exactly like the same Bears that have gone 122-8 in the last four seasons, they’re still good, plenty good and ranked 12th nationally. Baylor is still the favorite to win the Big 12 and still owns a 17-game win streak over the Wildcats.
“It’s going to be a very fiercely competitive Baylor team that I think we’ll see coming off that loss to Kansas — and its not just that they lost, but the way in which they played,” K-State coach Deb Patterson said Monday. “I don’t think they played at the maximum of their work ethic. I think we’ll take their best shot. That’s what Big 12 basketball is all about — the next day is a whole other challenge.”
UConn is UConn — no surprise it found a way to beat Baylor (14-2, 4-1 Big 12). But Kansas? The Jayhawks’ win was clearly the shocker of the women’s basketball season so far — a win that snapped Baylor’s 44-game Big 12 winning streak.
So have the Jayhawks (9-9, 2-4) uncovered the secret recipe to beating the unbeatable Bears, other than Brittney Griner now playing in the NBA?
Odyssey Sims scored 31 points for Baylor on Sunday — 21 in the first half — but just 10 in the second when she made only 4 of 19 shots. Sims was all the offense the Bears had. If she was off, so was Baylor. Sims alone was 13 for 37 from the field, while the rest of her team was 11 for 42.
“I think it was probably a perfect storm, so to speak,” Patterson said. “Baylor was not responding well to what KU brought to the floor and KU gained confidence the more Baylor wasted possessions offensively. Defensively, I didn’t think Baylor did a good job at all protecting the paint.”
Chelsea Gardner had 28 points and 13 rebounds for the Jayhawks, who come to Manhattan this Saturday for their first game against the Wildcats this season.
“Baylor was very disjointed and (KU) chased Odyssey, and it seemed like it took Baylor by surprise — they seemed pretty passive,” Patterson said. “And then KU did a great job pounding it inside, high-percentage shots… they did that over and over again.”
Baylor defeated K-State (8-9, 2-4) in the Big 12 opener for both teams on Jan. 2 — a 92-63 loss for the Wildcats at Bramlage Coliseum. And as bad as that loss was, K-State, perhaps like Baylor, is a different team today.
The Wildcats are coming off back-to-back wins — at Texas Tech last Wednesday and then an 80-74 upset win over then-No. 13 Iowa State on Saturday. The two-game win streak snapped a four-game skid to open league play, a stretch that included three ranked opponents.
Leti Romero has been leading the way for the Wildcats. The point guard was named Big 12 Freshman of the Week on Monday after scoring 21 points in the winning effort at Tech and then a posting a career-high 27 points in the win over the Cyclones.
But part of the Wildcats’ recent success stems from K-State finding other scoring options as well, including junior Ashia Woods, who has scored in double figures four of the last six games. On Saturday, K-State got a career-high 23 points from senior forward Katya Leick and 12 points off the bench from sophomore Bri Craig.
“I think we’ve taken positive steps,” Patterson said. “It’s a different game on the road, and again, we’re significantly better and tougher than before.
“The question is how many healthy bodies will we have — we had some people out of practice again today. And with preparation being important, I think we’re going to have to be all in for 40 minutes to be able to keep that game competitive.”
Patterson, though pleased with the direction her team is going right now, understands the challenge of facing Baylor, especially a prideful Bears team at home.
“It was great to beat Iowa State, but now you’re getting ready to play Baylor on the road, and they’re very, very mad and I think they’ve lost one game in their last (69) there — and that was to Connecticut,” she said.