The Baylor Bears’ women’s basketball season is done. Here are five thoughts about the 2021-22 season and what’s ahead for the basketball program.
For the first time two decades there was change in Waco, as Kim Mulkey left after the 2020-21 season to take the job at LSU and Baylor hired Nicki Collen. The former WNBA coach, who guided the Atlanta Dream for three seasons, brought a pro-style offense to the Bears. It took some time for the team to adjust. That was evident with losses to Maryland and Michigan in non-conference. Once Big 12 play hit so did COVID-19. Baylor lost its opener to Kansas State short-handed, then took an eight-day break and then lost to Oklahoma. The Bears started league play 0-2 for the first time in who-knows-when. But, Baylor battled back behind NaLyssa Smith, Queen Egbo and Jordan Lewis. The Bears won every league game from there, save for the rematch with Oklahoma, and won the Big 12 regular-season title. Smith was the Big 12 Player of the Year for the second straight year, averaging a double-double. The Bears lost to Texas in the Big 12 Tournament title game, and then lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to South Dakota. It marked the first time Baylor wasn’t in the Sweet 16 since 2008. Still, Collen won 28 games, seven more than Mulkey in her Baylor debut. Plus, she did it with a team that really only went seven players deep.
Lewis, who was named the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year, is out of eligibility, which means the Bears need a new point guard. Smith and Egbo have another year to use, thanks to COVID-19 eligibility. But Smith is headed for the WNBA Draft, where she could be the No. 1 overall pick. Egbo announced she would leave for the WNBA on March 27 via social media.
Who’s Coming Back?
Everyone else. Caitlin Bickle, who had a year of COVID eligibility, announced she would return. She goes from the bench to the starting lineup after she averaged 7.4 points and 4.3 rebounds. The Bears should also have back guards Sarah Andrews (11.1 points) and Ja’Mee Asberry (9.5 points), two of the Big 12’s better 3-point shooters. Jaden Owens will likely get the chance to prove herself at point guard. Freshmen Kendra Gillespie and Andrea Katramados will get a crack at more playing time. But Baylor has just six returning players.
Who’s Coming In?
Collen’s first recruiting class is bonkers good. She signed two four-star recruits and one of the best Juco recruits in the country. Kyla Abraham (6-foot-4, Carrollton, Va.) is the No. 62 overall recruit per ESPN. Bella Fontleroy (6-foot-2, Springfield, Mo.) is the No. 41 overall recruit per ESPN. Catarina Ferreira (6-foot-1, Sao Paulo, Brazil/Eastern Arizona College) is the No. 2 overall Juco recruit according to World Exposure Report. Plus, Baylor signed a five-star player, Darianna Littlepage-Buggs (6-foot-1, Classen, Okla.) who is a McDonald’s All-American. With so little returning, all four could play right away.
What to Watch For
Baylor has more work to do this offseason given what’s returning. That could mean that Collen and her staff could dip into the transfer portal or sign more high school or junior college talent in the traditional signing window in April. Meanwhile, the Bears have to develop what’s there. They need to prepare Bickle for a starring role in the pivot while helping Andrews and Asberry take the next step in their development. They’ll be the stars of this team next season as Collen works with this wealth of young talent.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.