Baylor forward NaLyssa Smith is the Heartland College Sports Big 12 women’s basketball player of the year for the 2021-22 season.
Smith was the Big 12 Player of the Year last season after averaging 17.2 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. She was the Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year in October. And she’s the best player in the Big 12 this season after she’s elevated her game.
It didn’t look like it would be that way when the Bears started the Big 12 season with two straight losses. No women’s team had won the Big 12 regular-season title after starting league play with two losses since Texas Tech in 2000. The Bears equaled that feat after wrapping up the season on Sunday, defeating, of all teams, Texas Tech to wrap up their 12th straight regular-season crown.
Smith led the charge.
She was impressive all season, but she was never more impressive than when Baylor was against the wall after back-to-back losses to Kansas State and Oklahoma. The Bears won 15 of their final 16 games in Big 12 play, losing only to Oklahoma. Smith had some of the signature games of the entire season.
Even in that first loss to Oklahoma on Jan. 12, she scored 30 points. In the back-to-back matchups with Texas, both of which led to Bears victories, she had 25 points and eight rebounds in the first game and 28 points and 13 rebounds in the second game.
Against Kansas on Feb. 26, Smith set a career high with 33 points. Then, two nights later in Ames, Iowa, she led the Bears to an 87-62 win over the Cyclones. She had 28 points and 20 rebounds, and the Bears won a share of the league title.
Oh, that game on Sunday against Texas Tech? Smith set a new career-high with 35 points and added 12 rebounds.
By the end of the regular season, Smith averaged 22.3 points and 11.7 rebounds per game, improvement over last season’s impressive production. She also had an assist and a steal per game. She shot 56.1 percent from the field and 78.8 percent from the free-throw line. Smith is the defending Wade Trophy winner for national player of the year, and while it doesn’t look like she’ll win it this year — South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston is the presumed favorite — she played like the nation’s top player most of the season.
There were a few other players considered for this award. Kansas State’s Ayoka Lee set a NCAA record 61 points against Oklahoma, but eventually she and the Wildcats came back to earth. Ashley Joens of Iowa State had a terrific season and became the Cyclones’ all-time leading scorer.
But Smith’s incredible season, her propensity for double-doubles, and her big games against her competition for this award, makes her the league’s top player for this season.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.