There is nothing unusual about Baylor going into the Big 12 women’s tournament already with a trophy.
Coach Kim Mulkey and the No. 6 Lady Bears (27-3) won their fifth consecutive regular-season championship this season.
What is a bit surprising is how dominating they were in winning their latest title with only one senior. Baylor now goes for its fifth straight Big 12 tournament in a championship run that started in 2011, when Brittney Griner was a sophomore and Odyssey Sims a freshman.
”You know what I think of it, it’s pretty remarkable,” said Mulkey, the Big 12 coach of the year for the fifth time in her 15 seasons. ”Griner was 9-7 her freshman year. With (post players) Brooklyn Pope and Destiny Williams and the kids we had around her, 9-7 in this league. This team finished 16-2, so there’s no way I could have ever expected that. They’ve just done it.”
Kansas State (17-12, 7-11 Big 12) plays Kansas (15-16, 6-12- in the tournament opener Friday night in downtown Dallas. The winner advances to play top-seeded Baylor in a quarterfinal game Saturday.
West Virginia (17-13, 7-11) takes on Texas Tech (15-15, 5-13) in the other Friday game. The winner plays No. 2 seed Oklahoma (19-10, 13-5), the only team besides Baylor to finish above .500 in Big 12 play.
Baylor, not even the preseason favorite this time, won its first 15 Big 12 games to clinch the title with three games left. The Lady Bears rebounded from back-to-back road losses to Oklahoma and Iowa State with a 75-65 win over Texas Tech on Monday night for their 19th consecutive win at home, where they will be for the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament.
Here are a few things to know going into the Big 12 tournament, which crowns its champion Monday night:
NINA AND NIYA: Baylor sophomore post player Nina Davis, the league’s top scorer at 20.7 points a game, was picked by the coaches as the Big 12 player of the year. Davis, also third with 8.6 rebounds a game, was the league’s top freshman last season. Lady Bears junior guard Niya Johnson has already set a Big 12 single-season record with 255 assists, and her 8.79 per game lead the nation. She has 13 games with at least 10 assists, and six other games with nine assists.
ALL THINGS EVEN: Oklahoma State, Iowa State, TCU and Texas were all 9-9 in conference play, the most teams the Big 12 has ever had finish exactly .500 in the league in the same season. The only other time with more such teams was three in 1998-99. Those four teams are matched up Saturday, when Oklahoma State (19-10) plays Iowa State (18-11) and TCU (17-12) takes on Texas (20-9) for the second time in five days.
HURT FAVORITE: Texas was the preseason Big 12 favorite over Baylor, and the Longhorns won their first 13 games. But senior forward Nneka Enemkpali, their leading scorer and rebounder, suffered a season-ending knee injury Jan. 19 at Baylor. Texas went 6-6 after that, and reached 20 wins for the second year in a row with a 79-45 win over TCU on Tuesday.
TOP LEAGUE: Even with No. 6 Baylor the only ranked team, the Big 12 is still No. 1 in conference RPI by the Collegiate Basketball News. The Big 12 is the only league with 90 percent of its teams having an overall record of .500 or better, and is one of just two conferences in which every team has at least 10 wins.
BACK IN BIG D: The Big 12 women are playing their tournament in Dallas for the fifth time. They also played at the home arena of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks in 2013, when they moved away from the same town as the Big 12’s men tournament. The men play in Kansas City next week.