By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
Toyelle Wilson finally got her wish.
Now in her fifth season as an assistant coach at Baylor, the former Prairie View A&M head coach kept pestering her boss to use some zone - a four-letter word that Kim Mulkey doesn't even like uttering.
"That was Coach Wilson sitting next to me, saying, `Coach, please play some zone.' That's all she ever tells me," Mulkey said. I thought, if you're in a game setting, this is our opportunity to work on our zone. And I thought for the most part, we did good.
Overcoming a sluggish start that saw eighth-ranked Baylor fall behind 13-9 in the first four minutes, the Lady Bears (8-1) used a 40-5 run over the last 12 ½ minutes of the first half to cruise to a convincing 105-43 victory over North Dakota Tuesday night at the Ferrell Center.
"That was different," said senior guard Kristy Wallace, who had nine points, eight assists and zero turnovers in 22 minutes. "Coach Mulkey doesn't like playing a zone, which I like playing a man as well, so it was a bit different tonight. But, I think we did well. We ran well out of it . . . executed well in it. It was good practice."
That's essentially what this game turned into, particularly after the opening quarter that saw the Fighting Hawks (4-3) go toe-to-toe for the first seven minutes, tying it up at 17-17 on a free throw by Fallyn Freije.
From that point on, though, UND scored just 26 points over the last 33 minutes and never found a way to stop the bigger, faster and stronger Lady Bears.
"We just started off sloppy," Mulkey said. "We talked about it before the game, we talked about it at shoot-around, because I've been around the game long enough to know that kids tend to do that. You try your best to avoid it. I thought after the first four or five minutes, we finally got untracked and started getting in a flow."
Despite "not feeling great," 6-foot-7 junior All-American Kalani Brown scored a game-high 21 points in just 12 minutes, finishing as one of the Lady Bears' five double-figure scorers. Lauren Cox and Alexis Morris chipped in with 15 points apiece, Natalie Chou had her first career double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds and Dekeiya Cohen had 10 points, five rebounds and four assists.
In addition to going to the zone defense for most of the second half, Mulkey used a five-guard lineup that had the 6-1 Chou and 6-1 freshman Didi Richards at the post spots. Richards scored eight points and had career highs with nine rebounds and three blocks.
"I told them in shoot-around today that I would like to rest my bigs as much as I can and thought the guards we have could play significant minutes together," said Mulkey, who went with the five-guard lineup at the end of the second quarter and the start of the third. "And actually, I kind of liked it, if you want to know the truth. They were active in both the man and zone defense. And, of course, when you play zone defense, you can run out of it and get a lot of transition baskets."
The Lady Bears did that, finishing with a 12-0 edge in fast-break points and dominating inside with a 66-14 edge in points in the paint.
Probably the most telling stat of the night was the two teams' assist-to-turnover ratios. Baylor had 25 assists to just seven turnovers, while the Fighting Hawks had three assists and 21 turnovers.
"I wish I could look at a state sheet and it looked like that every night," Mulkey said. "The beginning of the game and the last 1:51, we didn't look very smooth. But the other times in the game, it was fun to watch. It's fun to watch them when they share the basketball. It's fun to watch them when they run the floor. It's fun to watch them when they're active defensively. It was a good night."
Baylor has just two games left in pre-conference, hosting McNeese State at noon next Wednesday, Dec. 13, and then facing Nicholls State on Dec. 18 in Thibodaux, La.