OKLAHOMA CITY — Ten players average double-digit minutes. Multiple players shoot better than 50 percent from the field. An old-school coach who stresses toughness and loves teams that play defense and take care of the basketball.
If you didn’t know any better, you might think the Mississippi State women’s basketball team was the topic of conversation.
But Kim Mulkey’s Baylor Bears mirror Vic Schaefer’s MSU Bulldogs in all of the aforementioned categories. The Bears even have a bigger statistical advantage in several others — assist-to-turnover ratio, 3-point field goal percentage defense, rebounding differential — the Bulldogs take pride in.
Both approaches will come together at 6:30 tonight when top-seeded Baylor (33-3) takes on second-seeded MSU (32-4) in the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament’s Oklahoma City Regional. The winner advances to the Final Four next week in Dallas.
Baylor is coming off a 97-63 victory against fourth-seeded Louisville on Friday. Senior forward Nina Davis paced six Bears in double figures with 21 points. The effort followed the template Baylor has used all season in that four players — Kalani Brown (15.1 points per game), Alexis Jones (13.1), Davis (12.8), and Alexis Prince (12.2) — score in double figures.
The Bears also receive solid contributions from Beatrice Mompremier (8.5 ppg.), Lauren Cox (7.8), and Kristy Wallace (7.6). That gives Baylor seven players who average 7.6 ppg. or more. MSU has six.
Davis, the Big 12 Conference Player of the Year in 2015 and a three-time first team all-league pick, said the Bears have embraced the notion of being the sum of their parts.
“We’re a team with a lot of talent,” Davis said. “We have a lot of depth and we can score at every position. We share the ball well. We have a good assist-to-turnover ratio (792 to 477). We’re just a team that knows how to play together. We get out and run. We take great shots. We kind of go from the inside out, and we have perimeter players who can knock down three and we have bigs that can pound it on the inside.”
Mulkey played at Louisiana Tech and was an assistant coach with Gary Blair at the school and then an associate head coach before becoming head coach at Baylor in 2000. In that time, she has guided the Bears to NCAA titles in 2005 and 2012. Baylor is making its fourth-straight appearance in the Elite Eight, and eighth overall. MSU is making its first appearance in the Elite Eight.
Mulkey said her biggest challenge this season was figuring out how to divide the minutes with such a talented roster.
The assist-to-turnover ratio and the division of shots are perfect examples of why Baylor has been so successful. Prince, a redshirt senior guard, has attempted the most shots (375), but six Bears have attempted more than 200.
“I feel like I’m being more aggressive, just more healthy, able to move more, play defense better and just contribute any way I can,” said Prince who played in only 24 games last season due to a knee injury.
While Prince and Brown (232) have attempted more shots this season compared to 2015-16, Wallace, Jones, and Davis have attempted fewer shots. The differences haven’t slowed the Bears down. They are averaging 89.6 ppg. and are shooting 49.8 percent from the field, which is the second-best mark in program history.
“I just think we’re hitting on all cylinders right now,” Mulkey said. “We knew we had the depth, but the depth sometimes wasn’t producing on a consistent basis. You’d have one kid that would have a great night and then the next game you wouldn’t hear from them. I think right now, if you’ve seen our three games in the playoffs, they’re hitting on all cylinders. You hope you can extend that.”
As point guard, Wallace will have a key role in leading that charge. She has taken 50 fewer shots than last season after playing shooting guard in 2015-16. She said the Bears have made the most of all of their weapons thanks to solid chemistry.
“It’s great having a team that’s really jelled,” Wallace said. “It’s the right kind of time to be doing it, too.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.