Manhattan, KS—To begin 2022, Kansas State made a statement by simply overpowering No. 10 Baylor 68-59 in what was the Big 12 opener for both teams.
It was Kansas State’s first victory over Baylor—who had won 36 straight times and owned a 41-9 all-time record vs the Wildcats— since January 27, 2004. The Bears will likely fall in the rankings, snapping their record 137 consecutive week streak of being ranked in the top 10.
The Bears held their only lead when they scored the game’s first basket. Otherwise, it was all purple as Baylor looked slow, timid and lethargic on both ends of the court.
Baylor was dealing with health concerns as three players did not travel due to being in Covid-19 health and safety protocols and others still were also under the weather—though the seven who played all tested negative.
Baylor point guard Jordan Lewis said, “I think it’s not an excuse, going into the season we knew that Covid and other things with sicknesses and illnesses were going to be coming around.”
The revolving door of players moving through Covid protocol has gotten so bad to where the Bears are having to play three on three in practice or add Dream Team guys to play four on four as if they were your local House League team looking to scrimmage at the Y over Christmas break instead of a top 10 team in the nation.
Even still, first year coach Nikki Collen is not looking to make excuses:
“Honestly, after Missouri took seven and beat No. 1 South Carolina without their leading scorer in the game, I think it’s hard for anyone in the country at this point, quite frankly, to make excuses about numbers.”
Regardless, six-foot-six junior Ayoka Lee took full advantage of Baylor’s short bench, the Bears’ foul trouble and her size in the second half. After only scoring four points in the first half and dealing with foul trouble of her own, Lee erupted to score 19 of Kansas State’s third quarter points.
Queen Egbo, who picked up her third foul on an illegal screen nine seconds before halftime, could only watch from the bench as Lee dominated a much smaller Caitlin Bickle.
“She’s a good player,” said Lewis. “She has a nice turnaround, she buried our post players. I think she’s someone that’s tough to guard, but I also think the foul trouble threw us off of what we wanted to do and she just continued to score.”
Lee continued to assert her dominance in the fourth quarter and to make key Baylor run-stopping shots no matter who was on her: Bickle, Egbo or All-American NaLyssa Smith. Lee finished with 32 points—including 28 of Kansas State’s 39 second half points— on 11-of-16 shooting and 10 rebounds.
“She’s bigger,” Collen said. “It’s not a complicated game. She’s bigger and there’s a simplicity to her game. She doesnt try to do too much, she uses her size to get deep, and then she uses her size to score. She doesn’t get cute.”
Continuing on, Collen said, “I thought she lived in the lane, we got one three second call all night. If you’re going to let that kid live in the lane, and not have her have to get out of the lane, [then] you’re going to have problems.”
Though Collen though Lee’s 32 points were not that bad, that Baylor can allow Lee to have 32, defend everybody else and still win in the future. Fouls and turnovers—of which Baylor had 22 of each including two technicals— were what Collen claimed killed the Bears today.
Freshman Wildcat guards Serena Sundell and Jaelyn Glenn had 10 and seven points respectively. Although all 10 Wildcats scored, no other Kansas State player had more than four points on the afternoon.
Kansas State made three of four three-point shots in the first quarter and held an 18-4 lead before Baylor coach Nikki Collen called a timeout with just over a minute left and Bickle then converted an AND-1 to make it 18-7.
Baylor cut it to eight by halftime, but Lee’s simplistic, effective and highly efficient post game repertoire extended the lead to as high as 15 before the Bears began to chip away again.
The slow starts are becoming to become habitual with Collen’s team as they trailed at half to Fordham and after the first quarter to Houston in the Cancun Challenge. They struggled against Missouri and also trailed by double digits in the second half at Maryland and Michigan.
“We can’t let our offense dictate our defense,” Lewis said afterwards. “I think in all our losses missed shots have led to other teams getting open looks or things where we have game slippage and forget to guard somebody a certain way.”
After only scoring seven and 14 points in the first two quarters, the Bears scored 17 and 21 points in the last two quarters and held Kansas State to 1-of-9 beyond the arc shooting after the Wildcats’ hot 3-of-4 start.
As to why Baylor seems to play better in the second half? Well, Collen did not exactly have an answer for that.
“I wish there was a magic answer to that,” Collen admitted. “Sometimes people have asked me what halftime speech I gave so they came out and competed at a different level... It’s about are you ready? Isn’t it different if Ja’Mee hits two open threes [early instead of late?]… To me, it wasn’t that we didn’t get good shots we just didn’t put them in the basket.”
“My challenge as a coach, what I have to be better at, is I’ve got to make sure we challenge them, just because your shot isn’t dropping doesn’t mean you make defensive mistakes,” Collen self-assessed.
Like in all the games above, the Bears seemed to also flip a switch in the fourth quarter against Kansas State to mount a comeback. Despite only hitting 1-of-11 threes in the first half, Baylor made 5-of-9 threes in the second half beginning with a Sarah Andrews third quarter bank shot.
Ja’Mee Asberry seemed to find her shooting touch—perhaps a silver lining for Baylor— as she made four of seven threes and tied for a team high with 14 points. Jordan Lewis had a key steal and three-point play with just under three minutes to play that cut the deficit to nine; she also had 14 points (seven in the final quarter), five rebounds and four assists.
Immediately after that sequence, Smith (12 points, seven rebounds) was blocked and/or stripped by Lee. Kansas State kept the Bears at arms length until an Asberry three cut the lead to four with 1:16 to play. However, Baylor could not capitalize on their next possession and Wildcat free throws salted away the game.
This Wednesday, Baylor will host TCU while Kansas State will travel to Stillwater to face Oklahoma State.
Baylor women’s basketball has won every Big 12 regular season conference title since 2010-11 (11 straight). Over that stretch, the Bears amassed a 187-9 Big 12 record. Only two of those losses where by double digits.
Today was the poorest performance in Baylor WBB recent memory and worst since the Bears lost at Kansas by 16 in January 2014—Nina Davis’ freshman season.
Baylor has also won 10 of the past 12 Big 12 tournament titles, and success has always kind of been assumed by many fans. Now as Baylor football and men’s basketball continue to rack up various championships and athletic feats there will be more eyes on what Nikki Collen’s program does especially when compared to former HOF coach Kim Mulkey’s past seasons (and to some extend what she is currently doing down in Baton Rouge).
Will Baylor be able to hit their stride like Coach Collen anticipates and have their top five players playing at their best on a nightly basis? There are some positive signs, however, Baylor will have to shut out any outside noise if they want to claim their 12th straight Big 12 title.