Basketball in Texas runs through the Baylor Lady Bears. There’s a reason we put Lauren Cox on the cover, and why Kim Mulkey has been part of two of the four previous mags. The Lady Bears are an institution.
Baylor has won 23 straight games against Texas teams, dating back to the 2016 season. The program has nine straight Big 12 titles and 11 straight Sweet 16 appearances. Don’t expect much to change in 2020.
Cox, the All-American and former No. 1 overall recruit, is back as the on-court face of the program. She will be in a season-long competition with Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu for national player of the year and No. 1 overall WNBA draft pick honors.
Next to Cox, starting wings Juicy Landrum and Didi Richards are back to reprise their roles. Richards ranks among the best wing defenders in the sport, and showed a scoring spark with 15.5 points per game in the final four tourney games. Landrum ranks top 10 in program history in 3-point percentage. Underclassmen like Moon Ursin and NaLyssa Smith will benefit from major experience during the championship run.
Additionally, the Lady Bears added a pair of highly-touted grad transfers. South Carolina transfer Te’a Cooper will man the point after leading the Gamecocks in points last season. Former La Vega 5-star post Erin DeGrate will compete for playing time next to Cox with returners Smith and Queen Egbo. After having great success with Chloe Jackson last season, Mulkey felt more comfortable going back to the transfer wire.
“What opened my eyes is how much experience those players bring to the table and how much maturity they bring,” Mulkey said. “Now they have to learn a new system and all that, but there is such a difference between a grad transfer and a freshman between maturity and experience.”
No one knows better than Baylor how hard it is to repeat as national champions. After going 40-0 in 2012, a Lady Bears team featuring Brittney Griner and Odyssey Sims bowed out in the Sweet 16 in 2013. The same happened the year after the ‘05 title, when Baylor lost in the Sweet 16 to Maryland. Geno Auriemma’s UConn, Pat Summitt’s Tennessee and Linda Sharp’s USC are the only teams to repeat in the NCAA era.
“I know coaches who have coached for their entire life who have never won a national championship,” Mulkey said. “We’ve been very fortunate to do it three times at Baylor. I don’t take that for granted.”
However, this Lady Bears team bring back a steady mix of experienced talent and high-profile newcomers. With Cox manning the middle, Baylor enters the year as a consensus top-two team in America. The Lady Bears beat the consensus No. 1 team, Oregon, in the Final Four last year.
Kim Mulkey’s teams aspire for championships the second training camp starts. If the new pieces fit just right, the Lady Bears will be right there at the end of the year.
Preseason MVP Lauren Cox
The cover subject of our magazine is the face of basketball in this state. With Kalani Brown off to the WNBA, Cox will be a favorite for National Player of the Year.
Game of the Year: Jan. 9 at UConn
Beating No. 1 UConn a season ago helped propel the Lady Bears to national title favorites. Can they do it again?
Impact-First Year Player: