WACO, Texas (KWTX) Even with just 10 scholarship players heading into the regular season, Baylor women's basketball head coach Kim Mulkey felt like she had a strong core of talent.
Through 11 games, No. 6 Baylor has won 10 games, with its only loss coming in the fourth game of the season at No. 8 UCLA. That day, the Lady Bears were without sophomore Lauren Cox (medical issue) and Mulkey, who did not make the trip because of a family emergency involving her daughter, Makenzie, who is also an assistant coach on the team.
Since the 82-68 loss, Baylor has won all seven games prior to the Big 12 conference opener against Kansas State. It will be the earliest start date for a conference opener in Baylor's program history since joining the NCAA ranks.
"I'll never get used to playing conference before January 1," Mulkey said. "I don't understand it. I'm not smart enough to listen why we do it. I sure liked it when we started after January 1."
From the 1981-82 through the 2014-15 seasons, Baylor began the conference schedule after the calendar flip. In the first year of pre-New Year conference games, Baylor dropped a road contest to unranked Oklahoma State.
The Lady Bears feature one of the best post combinations in the country with Cox and junior Kalani Brown, who is 10th in the NCAA with an average of 22 points per game.
Even if opposing teams like Kansas State feature an anticipated zone defense -- something Mulkey prefers not to do -- to offset Baylor's strong play in the paint, the Lady Bears have the weapons to hit from the outside. Baylor's 42.2% clip from three-point distance is the third-best percentage in the NCAA thanks to solid starts from Natalie Chou, Juicy Landrum, Kristy Wallace and Alexis Morris.
The Lady Bears have the top scoring offense per game (91.9 points) and second-best field goal percentage (52.9%). Defensively, they held teams to the lowest field goal percentage (30.2%) in games played through Christmas day.
"We definitely had our ups and downs, which is good to experience," Wallace said. "Being able to bounce back from a loss is really good and it's good experience and we can just learn from it. We learn from our losses, which is good."
Baylor has lost back-to-back games just five times in the last decade, and hasn't lost three consecutive games since the 2007-08 season, so they've recently not been a team that dwells on losses.
Beginning Thursday at 7 p.m., the conference grind will be an invaluable teacher to the young roster that includes four true freshmen and three sophomores.