Centers of attention for Baylor-Cal women in 3rd NCAA game
Baylor’s Kalani Brown and California’s Kristine Anigwe are so often the center of attention for multiple defenders. There are rarely any one-on-one chances for the standout seniors.
That could change Monday night when their teams meet in the second round of the women’s NCAA Tournament for the third time in six years.
“Maybe, I’m praying. Not many people get to see two bigs go at it,” said Brown, the 6-foot-7 All-Big 12 center. “I know Kristine probably doesn’t see a lot of one-on-ones on her either, so she’s probably begging on a one-on-one. So maybe, yeah, just to get loose and do moves you don’t usually do and you can actually put the ball down more.”
Baylor (32-1) has won 15 consecutive NCAA Tournament games on its home court, and is trying to get to the Sweet 16 for the 11th year in a row — this time in the Greensboro Regional. The Lady Bears are the No. 1 overall seed in the 64-team NCAA field.
Anigwe is the only player in the country, men or women, with a double-double in every game this season. The 6-4 All-Pac-12 player is averaging 22.8 points and a national-best 16.5 rebounds per game for No. 8 seed Cal (20-12). She had 18 points and 22 rebounds in a first-round win over North Carolina despite being constantly surrounded by Tar Heels.
“I enjoy playing if they’re bigger than me or if they’re the same size as me or they’re smaller than me,” Anigwe said.
Both Brown and Anigwe have 6-4 post junior teammates — Lauren Cox for Baylor and CJ West for Cal.
“Obviously your eyes go to Kalani and Kristine, the front court,” Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. “It may come down to the play of everybody else, and we’re just looking forward to competing against a great team.”
Just like in 2014 and 2017, the Pac-12 Golden Bears won their first-round game in Waco. But they then lost to Baylor in the second round the last two times — by 19 points in 2014, the year after going to the NCAA Final Four, and by 40 points in 2017.
“I would just say this is a whole different team than we had two years ago with new faces and different skill sets that we didn’t have two years ago,” Cal senior guard Asha Thomas said. “So I think it will be a better match-up.”
Baylor coach Kim Mulkey expects a Sweet 16 feel to the second-round game because both teams have outstanding post play, outstanding guards and upper classmen. She knows both teams are different than their previous matchup.
“Well, they’re older, just like our kids are older, but you have a grad transfer in (Reece) Caldwell that runs the show for them, and then you have quickness in Thomas, the kid that’s a senior,” Mulkey said. “Both post players (Anigwe and West) can bang with you. … They have everything that we have, except in my opinion, the depth.”
Cal and Baylor both have graduate transfers for the first time, and both are starting point guards — Caldwell for Cal and Chloe Jackson (from LSU) for the host Bears.
Before initially going to UCLA and then transferring to Texas Tech and to Cal, Caldwell had verbally committed to play at Baylor.
“I’m pretty familiar with Baylor, just being in the Big 12 for three years and being committed to them in eighth grade or whatever grade I was in,” Caldwell said.
“If we were recruiting her, I tend to think that she (was pretty good). We evaluate pretty good,” Mulkey said.
Nalyssa Smith has become an impact player as a freshman for Baylor, and made the most of her 18 minutes in her first women’s NCAA Tournament. The 6-foot-2 forward had a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds against Abilene Christian.
“It was just a fun experience, and I just want to keep going,” Smith said.
NO COUNTRY (SONG) FOR CAL
Before Baylor’s opening-round win over Abilene Christian, Mulkey was singing the lyrics, “Abilene, Abilene, prettiest town I’ve ever seen.”
Media members, after being quizzed by Mulkey about it, did web searches to find out it was a No. 1 country song for George Hamilton IV that he performed in the 1963 movie “Hootenanny Hoot.”
Mulkey was asked Sunday if she had anything to sing about the Golden Bears.
“I don’t have any country songs about Cal Berkeley,” she said.