January 21, 2021 

Takeaways from a wild week in the Big 12

Iowa State earns historic win over Baylor; Kim Mulkey calls out the NCAA

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Iowa State celebrates after defeating No. 6 Baylor this weekend. Photo via @ncaawb on Twitter.

Iowa State delivers historic upset over Baylor, what does this mean for the future?

On Sunday, the Cyclones upended perennial powerhouse Baylor 75-71 thanks to creative coaching, cutthroat defense, and of course, late-game heroics from Ashley Joens. The upset — and what an upset it was — marked Iowa State’s first win in Waco since 1997, and also broke the Lady Bears’ 61-game home winning streak.

If this doesn’t cement Joens’ claim as Big 12 Player of the Year, I’m not sure what will.

“It’s a huge win, Baylor’s a great team,” Joens said. “Just knowing that we can compete at the highest level with these types of teams, it kind of gives us that confidence going into the rest of the season.”

The Cyclones got out to an early lead in the second quarter, but Baylor battled back quickly as the half came to a close. The contest featured a dozen lead changes, and neither team broke ahead by more than two possessions for the final 27 minutes of the contest.

But as time winded down Joens delivered her Herculian performance, dropping 14 of Baylor’s final 17 points, including the dagger with eight seconds to go. She finished with 27 points and 12 rebounds. Freshmen Lexi Donarski and Emily Ryan added 17 and 15 points, respectively.

“You’re talking about freshmen that come into this environment, against that team … their numbers were great, they competed,” Fennelly said. “Their eyes were wide open, in a good way.”

Baylor, of course, has work to do. This marked the Lady Bears’ return to action after head coach Kim Mulkey tested positive for the coronavirus earlier this year, which put a pause on team activities. Baylor was bound to be a little rusty in its return but came into this game heavily favored thanks to its interior prowess.

The Cyclones could have backed away from that challenge. As we know now, they didn’t.

Iowa State held their own against Baylor, contesting every shot at the rim while keeping the Lady Bears off the free-throw line. By the time the buzzer sounded, Iowa State allowed just 15 second-chance points, which marked a season-low for the Lady Bears according to CBB Analytics. Some of Baylor’s shortcomings should be attributed to the pause, but praise aplenty must go to Joens and Kristin Scott, Iowa State’s fast and powerful forwards who refused to get pushed around.

Baylor had four players finish with at least 10 points on Sunday, including a surprise breakout performance from UCLA transfer Jaden Owens who had a season-high 15 points in 35 minutes. The Lady Bears were without DiJonai Carrington, who has been so crucial to their offensive gameplan, but Owens was unafraid to battle on the perimeter. Owens came up big in her first real taste of Big 12 competition, knocking down four of her eight 3-point attempts. Fundamentally, she’s the antithesis of what the Lady Bears’ have had on the offensive end this season. But that change of pace could be exactly what this team needs.

Moving forward, keep an eye on Baylor freshman center Hannah Gusters. While she’s been an internal part of the bench unit this year, Gusters was effectively played off the floor in her shortest stint of the season. While Baylor isn’t the type of team to pine for interior scoring, a short rotation matters, and if she can’t keep up on the defensive end Mulkey will be tasked with making yet another adjustment.

Now, what does the future hold for the Cyclones?

We knew Joens was great, and we knew Iowa State’s supporting cast is great. But few expected this. And yet on Tuesday, Iowa State nearly fell to a stumbling Oklahoma team. Iowa State isn’t perfect — right now, no team in the Big 12 is — and its toughest test moving forward might simply be complacency.

But Iowa State has shown us that it can win in a variety of ways, and it has the ingredients for winning basketball: star power, a shot chart to make stat heads swoon, and young players who embrace the biggest stage.

As long as Joens keeps cooking, the Cyclones have a shot to win their first Big 12 regular-season title since 2000. The team’s next-biggest test of the season comes against Texas on Saturday. If the Cyclones can bring him the victory again, they could be looking at a top-20 ranking. Right now, this looks like anyone’s conference.

Baylor adds Texas Tech transfer Chrislyn Carr to bolster guard depth — eligibility TBD

The Lady Bears have spent the year searching for the right mix in the backcourt and may have finally found the answer they’re looking for in Texas Tech transfer Chrislyn Carr, the 2018-19 Big 12 Freshman of the Year. Carr is joining the Lady Bears after 63 games as a Lady Raider.

“I am thrilled to welcome Chrislyn to Baylor University and to the Lady Bears basketball team,” Mulkey said of Carr’s Waco arrival. “She brings a scoring ability and quickness that will be a great addition to our backcourt.”

In her sophomore year, Carr earned a Big 12 honorable mention. Carr, a junior, played just five games for the Lady Raiders this season before entering the transfer portal in December.

In her two-plus seasons at Texas Tech, Carr averaged 16.3 points, 4.4 assists, and 1.6 steals per game. If she sees the floor this season she’ll alleviate the Lady Bears omnipresent issues on the perimeter. She has hit 38.4 percent of her outside shots since the start of her sophomore year, attempting about five threes per game.

Kim Mulkey: to the NCAA, ‘the almighty dollar’ is more important than our health

After the loss to Iowa State, Mulkey became the next coach to call out the NCAA, saying (in no uncertain terms) that this game is being played in the interest of the NCAA’s pockets while keeping players and coaches at risk. These are things we knew already, but to hear it from one of college basketball’s most central figures is significant.

“The answer is this: The season will continue on. It’s called the almighty dollar,” Mulkey said. “The NCAA has to have the almighty dollar from the men’s tournament. The almighty dollar is more important than the health and welfare of me, the players, or anybody else.”

“One conference does this, one conference does that. The CDC says this. Everybody is confused. I’m confused. I’m uncomfortable coaching. I understand, COVID is real. I’ve had it — come talk to me sometime.”

Texas falls to Texas Tech — have the Longhorns lost their edge?

In a slightly less historic (though perhaps more surprising) upset, Texas Tech defeated Texas on the back of senior guard Vivian Gray, who had 24 points and a season-high 13 rebounds for her team. The Lady Raiders played far from flawless offensive basketball, but it slowed the Longhorns down on the defensive end and did enough on offense to win.

This is the second sour stint in the past two weeks for Texas, who fell to West Virginia 92-58 on Jan. 9. What gives?

“Just our lack of focus and execution and concentration, it’s very characteristic of a team that’s got three players on the floor that haven’t played the minutes our kids are having to play right now,” head coach Vic Schaefer said after the loss.

“I think at times we played really hard,” he added. “Did we play really hard for 40 minutes? No. Did we have mental lapses where we resting? Yeah, absolutely.”

Texas ultimately became its own worst enemy in the contest, overcome with mental errors while registering uncharacteristically poor splits and spirits as a 2-19 showing in the third quarter, and Charli Collier’s off-night ultimately sunk the Longhorns’ chances. The junior shot 2-12 from the field with seven turnovers, while Texas shot just 32.8 percent from the floor and had three starters foul out.

To date, Texas is 1-3 when Collier scores under 15 points per game, and they’re 6-0 when she bests that mark. So yeah, slowing Collier down goes a long way to stopping the Longhorns offense — there’s certainly some truth to that. But the team’s issues run much deeper than just Collier, and lest we forget, stopping her is no easy task.

Some challenges come with introducing a new head coach to a relatively inexperienced team, and the pandemic only exacerbates these issues. It’s not so much that opponents have discovered how to stop the Longhorns — though containing shoots itself in the foot. Texas head coach Vic Schaefer knows that adjustments are on the horizon.

“To grow is to change. If you’re going to grow as a basketball player, grow as a person, you’ve got to change, and change is uncomfortable. Right now, we don’t like being uncomfortable.”

On the defensive end, Schaefer’s squad has lost a bit of the flair it had earlier this season. The Longhorns have certainly faltered at applying ball-pressure. They’ve also become less effective at forcing turnovers — that’s a problem, given that their pressured defensive approach held as a driving force in most of their early-season wins.

Ultimately, Schaefer believes that his team needs to start taking the game as it comes to them.

“Obviously, I’m not getting through to them what the necessary things are for us to win. I think we’re so focused on here,” Schaefer said, raising his hand up — “and we don’t understand the process to get there.”

Meanwhile, Texas Tech is making at least a little noise in the Big 12 with this win over Texas and a 5-point loss to West Virginia four days earlier. While they still find themselves outside of the top 100 in the NET Rankings, a backcourt with projected WNBA prospect Vivian Gray and senior standout Lexi Gordon will always have a chance to make some noise.

Big 12 Standings

Big 12 standings, bracketology via The Next’s Russell Steinberg

Written by Spencer Nusbaum

Atlanta Dream and Big 12 reporter, breaking news and other things.

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