Coach Kim Mulkey stepped down after last season to take the job at LSU. She led the Lady Bears to three national championships, 12 Big 12 titles and 19 NCAA Tournament appearances in her 21 years on the job. Baylor made the Elite Eight last season.
Big shoes to fill for the Lady Bears’ new coach, Nicki Collen.
“There’s certainly a lot of pressure, but I didn’t take the job for there not to be pressure,” said Collen, who coached the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream the past three seasons. “It’s going to be a new brand of basketball and it won’t look the same, not going to feel the same, but we hope the results are the same.”
There are plenty of reasons for optimism in Waco. The Lady Bears bring back Queen Egbo and Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year NaLyssa Smith. She averaged 18 points and nine rebounds last season.
Baylor also adds Jordan Lewis, a transfer from Alabama and the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year. She scored 17 points per game for the Crimson Tide.
CENTER OF ATTENTION
Ayoka Lee has been one of the best players in the Big 12 since her arrival two years ago. The Kansas State junior hopes to take the next step and help her team make an NCAA Tournament this season.
Lee was a first-team All-Big 12 player in her first two seasons. She averaged 15 points as a freshman and 19 last season.
“This offseason, I’ve just been working on getting more comfortable outside of the paint,” Lee said. “Adding that to my game in a way that feels more natural.”
Both seasons have ended at the Big 12 Tournament, and Lee hopes to play well into March.
“I’ve been looking forward to this year for a while and just erase last year,” Kansas State coach Jeff Mittie said. “I think every team will be at a different level this year because you’ve got more practice time and it has felt more normal.”
The Wildcats last made the NCAA Tournament in 2019, losing to Michigan in the first round.
THE NEXT BEST
Texas and Iowa State tied for second in the preseason poll. The Longhorns received two first-place votes and the Cyclones got one.
Both teams are coming off disappointing finishes in the conference. Iowa was fourth in the Big 12 last season and Texas was fifth.
The Longhorns are trying to replace WNBA No. 1 draft pick Charli Collier, who led the team to the Elite Eight last season. They’ll start from the ground up with Preseason Freshman of the Year Aaliyah Moore, a forward with a versatile offensive game.
“She works her tail off,” Texas coach Vic Schaefer said. “She is very coachable kid and we are really looking forward to our freshman class. Our job is to get them ready for the season.”
THE REST OF THE PACK
The other teams chasing Baylor this season, in order of their places in the preseason poll, are West Virginia, Oklahoma, TCU, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Texas Tech and Kansas.