Thank you to guest writer Justin Carter! Excited to have him on board regularly this season!
Justin Carter covers women’s basketball for Dave Campbell’s Texas Basketball, Her Hoop Stats and D Magazine. He currently lives in Iowa.
Baylor WBB: What To Watch For In December
We’ve reached December and Baylor remains undefeated, sitting at 7-0 overall on the year. The biggest one of those victories? Nov. 14 against then No. 4 Utah, with the Utes winning 84-77. Baylor shot 41.7% from three in that victory, with Sarah Andrews leading the way in scoring with 18 points. She was one of four Baylor players to score in double figures.
The team opened December with a 71-51 win over Oregon. The Ducks aren’t the Ducks of old, but they’re still a power conference team, and 20-point wins over power conference teams are always good news.
After the win over Oregon, the Bears rank 10th in the nation in scoring offense, averaging 89.0 points per game. They’re eighth in offensive rating and sixth in net rating, outscoring opponents by an average of 40.7 points per 100 possessions.
Can the Bears beat Texas?
December is a big month for Baylor. The team opened with the win over Oregon and later will face a solid Miami team before closing the month with arguably the biggest game of the season when the team faces Texas in Austin.
There’s obviously a lot of basketball between now and then, but it’s possible that game features a battle of unbeaten teams. Per Her Hoop Stats, Baylor should be favored in every game they play before that one. The closest projected margin comes against Miami on Dec. 16, with the HHS data indicating Baylor as a 4.8-point favorite in that one.
As for Texas, the Longhorns are 9-0 right now and have the second-best net rating in the country.
So, the question looms—can Baylor beat this Texas team?
Sure, but Baylor’s got to clean up some things, especially on defense. Baylor ranks a solid 24th in defensive rating, but that’s with having played Southern, McNeese and Alcorn so far. Texas is a different beast on offense, a team that can pound it inside and put up buckets. Rori Harmon seems to have taken a leap as a scorer after putting up 27 against UConn on Sunday.
The good news for the Bears—they held the Division I leader in scoring offense, Utah, to 77 points in Baylor’s 84-77 win last month, so the team has shown it can slow down high-powered offenses by applying pressure. Utah turned the ball over 18 times in that contest—Baylor’s going to have to force Texas into mistakes the same way it forced Utah into mistakes.
What will the bench rotation look like as the games get tougher?
Baylor has used the same starting five—Dre’Una Edwards, Darianna Littlepage-Buggs, Aijha Blackwell, Sarah Andrews and Jada Walker—in all seven games so far this season.
Bella Fontleroy has been the primary player off the bench, averaging 22.8 minutes per game. Fontleroy’s played very well so far, averaging 9.6 points per game and shooting 41.7% from three. The Bears have a +46.9 net rating with Fontleroy on the court. She’s pretty firmly established her importance for this team.
But beyond that, the Baylor bench, which was supposed to be a major strength for the team, has been fairly hit or miss. Yaya Felder has shot the ball really well, but she’s only getting 15.7 minutes and 5.3 field goal attempts per game. She was extremely good as a volume scorer at Ohio and it’d be nice to see Baylor get her on the floor more, maybe in some three-guard lineups—the team’s only played Felder with Walker and Andrews together for two minutes this season.
One thing I’m also worried about is the backup five situation. Madison Bartley played just over four minutes against Oregon. Kyla Abraham and Lety Vasconcelos didn’t see the floor until garbage time. Bartley, who was really good at Belmont last year, probably needs to step up as the season goes along, but things just aren’t working right now, as she’s averaging 3.9 points and 2.1 rebounds in 9.0 minutes per game. She’s blocked just two shots all season despite that being one of her best skills at Belmont.
So, yeah…the bench still worries me. Luckily, Baylor’s starting five is really, really good.
Can Sarah Andrews keep shooting like this?
One major question right now for the Bears? How sustainable is the three-point shooting from Sarah Andrews, who is currently at 42.9% from deep on 6.0 attempts per game.
The answer? Pretty sustainable. Andrews saw her three-point percentage dip down to 33.9% last year, a career low, but that also came on her most three-point usage. Her attempts are down a little this year, and it’s usually easier for a player to hit shots when they aren’t being asked to do it as often. Fatigue and all that.
Having Jada Walker alongside her in the backcourt also increases the likelihood of Andrews getting open looks from three instead of having to take shots off the dribble. Catch-and-shoot attempts are easier to hit than pull-ups, because there’s less chance for anything to go wrong.
Take the above play. Baylor has more offensive threats this year, so it’s easier for Andrews to find an open spot on the wing. Her defender comes off of her, and SMU’s left just watching Andrews drain the three.
Here’s a quick run down of the remainder of the month for the Bears.
- Dec. 14 - vs. Delaware State
- Dec. 16 - vs. Miami in San Antonio
- Dec. 20 - vs. Providence in West Palm Beach
- Dec. 21 - vs. South Florida in West Palm Beach
- Dec. 30 - at Texas
Note: Baylor defeated Delaware State 99-37 on Thursday to move to 8-0 on the year. It was a chance for the Bears to let the bench stretch its legs, with four of the team’s six double-digit scorers from the game coming in as reserves.
But while the Hurricanes are undefeated, they’ve only had one upset win, beating Mississippi State by six at the end of last month. It was an impressive victory, with Lemyah Hylton leading the way for the Canes with 16 points. But the team also beat Southern by just four points, a team Baylor beat by 32 earlier in the year. That’s the only game that the winless Jaguars have lost by single digits.
Most years, the South Florida game would be a concern as well. The Bulls won 27 games last year, but the team just doesn’t look the same right now, sitting at 6-3 with double-digit losses to Alabama, Arizona State and Texas. The team just doesn’t have the offensive talent that it’s had in past years.
Like I mentioned above, Baylor probably heads into that matchup with Texas undefeated, but the one worrisome game is the Miami game. The Hurricanes have the sixth-best scoring defense in the country, though that’s partially driven by the absurdly low pace the team plays at, ranking 299th in Division I in possessions per game.
December’s off to a good start in Waco, but the team still faces a couple of tough challenges later in the month. If Baylor can get through the Miami and Texas games unscathed, it’ll be time to talk about the Bears as title contenders.