The Baylor Lady Bears are No. 1 in the Associated Press women’s basketball poll for the first time since 2013. That was back when WNBA All-Star Brittney Griner was patrolling the paint for Baylor.
Kim Mulkey’s side ascended to the throne of women’s hoops this week after previous No. 1 Notre Dame was upset over the weekend by North Carolina. Baylor received 24 first place votes, while UConn and Louisville each garnered two.
The Lady Bears are seventh in scoring offense this season, racking up 82.3 points per-game. Baylor is also 20th in total defense, second in assist-turnover ratio, second in blocked shots and first in rebound margin.
Simply put: the Lady Bears are pretty darn good this year.
But can they hold on to that No. 1 spot for the remainder of the regular season?
A few tough games lie ahead for Baylor. Here’s a closer look at them.
Jan. 30 vs. Oklahoma State
This will be Baylor’s first test as the AP No. 1 and the pressure will be on the Lady Bears to not suffer an upset. The target on their back is the biggest it’s been this season.
While the Cowgirls aren’t ranked, they aren’t slouches either. Oklahoma State made the NCAA tournament last season, and this year they are 10-2 at home, making Stillwater a tough place to play. The Cowgirls have faced three ranked opponents this season and lost each contest, but never got embarrassed. The largest margin of defeat Oklahoma State has suffered this season is 13 points.
— Baylor Lady Bears (@BaylorWBB) January 30, 2019
Feb. 4 at No. 12 Texas
This is a nationally televised game against an in-state rival. While Texas recently lost to unranked West Virginia, the Longhorns remain a team not to be trifled with. Texas is a force on the glass, ranking third in the nation in rebounding margin. In 19 of their 21 games this season, the Longhorns have won the rebounding battle.
Texas also brings a balanced scoring attack to each game as seven players are averaging at least six points per game and eight different Longhorns have led the team in scoring this year. Baylor won both meetings with Texas last year, but the Longhorns led them at one point in the second half in their second 2018 matchup before falling 93-87. In addition to this game, the Lady Bears will host the Longhorns on Feb. 25.
— Baylor Lady Bears (@BaylorWBB) January 27, 2019
Feb. 23 at No. 23 Iowa State
The Lady Bears bested the Cyclones by 15 points on Jan. 23, but a return game in Ames could be much tougher for Baylor, where the Cyclones are 13-1 this season. In their first meeting this season, the Cyclones led the Lady Bears just before halftime, but the Lady Bears turned up the defensive heat in the second half and held dynamic scorer Bridget Carleton to just four points after she poured in 28 in the first half.
Carleton, a senior guard, is the Big 12’s leading scorer this season, averaging 20.6 points per-game. As a team, Iowa State is 18th in the nation in scoring margin. If Carleton and the rest of the Cyclones’ scorers get rolling, it could cause a headache for the Lady Bears.
Mitchell Northam is a graduate of Salisbury University. His work has been featured at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Orlando Sentinel, SB Nation, FanSided, USA Today and the Delmarva Daily Times. He grew up on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and is now based in Durham, N.C.