It’s time for the Baylor Lady Bears to head into the storm of the 2020-21 college basketball season.
The seventh-ranked Lady Bears (7-1, 2-0 in Big 12) have acclimated to the strangeness of COVID-19 protocols, gone on a three-game road trip full of NCAA Tournament contenders, dipped their toes into conference play and taken a Christmas break.
But now it’s all business.
The Baylor players returned to campus earlier this week to prepare to play TCU (5-2, 0-2) at 1 p.m. on Saturday in Fort Worth.
Just as soon as the Lady Bears had arrived back in Waco and hugged their basketball sisters, Baylor coach Kim Mulkey and her staff got their attention.
“When we came back, it was pretty tough,” Lady Bears senior guard DiDi Richards said. “We did a lot of conditioning. When we have that long of a break, they love to kill us. We died on the first day. But it was good to be back.”
Baylor has been the gold standard in Big 12 women’s basketball for more than a decade, winning 10 consecutive regular season conference titles. The Lady Bears are laser focused on getting No. 11 and they’re off to a good start.
Baylor opened conference action with a 20-point win at West Virginia on Dec. 10, then came home to pummel Texas Tech by 46. While the results so far have been lopsided, the Lady Bears players know tougher battles are ahead of them.
“We’re excited about it,” Baylor senior guard Moon Ursin said. “This is where the fun begins, just keeping that streak going. This is where it starts to matter and start to see the strengths of our team.”
TCU is at the opposite end of the spectrum and the Big 12 standings heading into Saturday’s matchup. The Horned Frogs lost by 23 at home against Iowa State to begin conference play and then fell by six at Texas Tech. While TCU has won five games to this point, none of the wins came against Power 5 opponents and none of them were against teams ranked in the top 150 on realtimeRPI.com.
Even so, Baylor knows the Horned Frogs can be tough on their home floor. TCU guard Lauren Heard finished a three-point play to give her team a one-point lead over the Lady Bears late in the third quarter last season at Schollmaier Arena. The Lady Bears prevailed, 66-57, and added a 19-point win over the Horned Frogs later in the season at the Ferrell Center.
One of the toughest challenges Baylor will face is the tendency to look ahead to a big nonconference showdown. The Lady Bears host fellow perennial power Connecticut at 7:30 on Thursday night at the Ferrell Center.
All of the above, of course, is still subject to the cloud of COVID-19. The Lady Bears players, coaches and support staff are constantly tested and must follow risk-mitigation protocols. Earlier this week, Kansas State had to pause activities and postpone two games. Mulkey has expressed concerns about navigating all the potential problems.