Here is everything you need to know about the Baylor Bears and the Hawaii Warriors in our Baylor vs. Hawaii NCAA Tournament women’s basketball preview.
Wichita Region – First Round
No. 2 Baylor (27-6) vs. No. 15 Hawaii (20-9) 3 p.m. CT, Friday, ESPN2, Ferrell Center, Waco, Texas
How They Got Here: Baylor was an at-large selection from the Big 12. Hawaii won the Big West Conference’s automatic bid.
Winner Gets: A second-round meeting with the Ole Miss-South Dakota winner on Sunday.
Projected starting lineups
Baylor: F NaLyssa Smith, G Ja’Mee Asberry, G Jordan Lewis, G Sarah Andrews, C Queen Egbo.
Hawaii: G Kelsie Imai, F Olivia Davies, F Amy Atwell, G Daejah Phillips, C Kallin Spiller.
Players to watch
Baylor F NaLyssa Smith: The awards keep coming for the senior, who could be the No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA Draft next month. On Wednesday she was named an Associated Press First-Team All-American. It was her second straight first-team selection and the fourth Bear to earn at least two first-team selections. Smith is one of seven Bears to have at least 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in their career. She is also No. 5 in the nation in scoring at 22.5 points per game and No. 9 in rebounding at 11.5 per game. She has 24 double-doubles which is a Baylor single-season record. She was the Heartland College Sports Big 12 Player of the Year and is the defending Wade Trophy winner, which is given to women’s college basketball’s best player. In other words, she’s the reason the Bears could win it all.
Hawaii F Amy Atwell: This is Atwell’s final season with the Warriors and she couldn’t be having a better season. She leads the team with 17.4 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. Regardless of what happens against Baylor, Atwell will be leaving Hawaii a legend. Friday will be her 126th game with Hawaii, setting a program record. Her 524 3-point attempts is No. 2 all-time. She could break the record with three 3-point attempts on Friday. She’s also a 38 percent 3-point shooter for her career. Her scoring average this season is third-best all-time for a senior at Hawaii. She’s one of 13 Hawaii players with at least 1,000 career points and 500 career rebounds. In the context of this game, she’s Hawaii’s NaLyssa Smith.
Baylor: The Bears saw their 12-game winning streak come to an end with the loss to Texas in the Big 12 title game on Sunday. But, the Bears are back in the NCAA Tournament as a No. 2 seed and first-year head coach Nicki Collen has the Bears primed for a long run. Baylor isn’t a deep team, but its starting five are all capable of scoring at least 10 points in a game. The 3-point shooting of Andrews, Asberry and Lewis counter-balance the impressive interior work of Smith and Egbo. And, because Smith’s outside game has improved this season, Egbo has more room to patrol inside. Caitlin Bickle is the Bears’ primary backup inside, and she had 21 points in the Big 12 semifinal. Jaden Owens is the primary perimeter backup. Baylor is trying to get back to the Elite Eight after an appearance last season.
Hawaii: The Warriors are having a renaissance under head coach Laura Beeman. For the second straight season Hawaii won the Big West regular-season and conference tournament, securing a path to the NCAA Tournament. The last time the Warriors reached the NCAAs in back-to-back tournament was 1989 and 1990. Friday will mark Hawaii’s eighth appearance in the Big Dance, and the Warriors have won just one game, which came in 1990 in an 8-9 game against Montana. Hawaii ended up losing to the Cardinal in the next round. This is the fourth time the Bears and Warriors have met all time, and Hawaii hasn’t won since their first meeting in 1995.
The last time the Bears failed to get to at least the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament was 2008.
Baylor 87, Hawaii 65. The trip to the mainland won’t result in an upset for the Warriors.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.