WHO: #2 seed Baylor Bears (32-3 overall, 16-2 Big 12)
WHERE: Oklahoma City, OK
WHEN: Friday, March 27; 6:30 PM CT
WHERE DOES BAYLOR PLAY?
Baylor, of course, comes from the Big XII, where they rolled to a 16-2 mark in conference play that was 3 games better than anyone else in the league. They also cruised to a Big 12 Tournament championship, where they won all three games by an average of 13.3 ppg.
HOW DID BAYLOR GET HERE?
Baylor won the Big XII's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament by winning the conference tournament with a 75-64 win over Texas in the championship game. Like Iowa, Baylor hosted their first two games of the NCAA Tournament. They demolished their opponents in those games, rolling past #15 seed Northwestern State and #10 seed Arkansas by an average of 35 ppg. That's not too shabby.
WHERE DO I REMEMBER BAYLOR FROM?
They've been a fixture in the later stages of the NCAA Tournament of late -- this is their 7th straight appearance in the Sweet 16. They made the Final Four in 2010 and won a national championship in 2012, going 40-0 in the process. That team rode two superstars, G Odyssey Sims and unstoppable force of nature C Brittney Griner, and dominated the competition. Fortunately, both Sims and Griner are playing professionally now.
DO IOWA AND BAYLOR HAVE ANY COMMON OPPONENTS?
Yes. Iowa and Baylor both played Arkansas; Iowa lost 77-67 back in December, while Baylor thrashed them, 73-44, last Sunday. They also both played Iowa State and Michigan State. Iowa beat Iowa State, 76-67, in Iowa City, while Baylor split with the Cyclones, beating them 79-47 in Waco, but dropping a 76-71 decision to ISU in Ames. Iowa beat Michigan State in an ugly 52-50 win in East Lansing, while Baylor crushed the Spartans, 84-65, on a neutral court in December.
WHAT WERE BAYLOR'S BEST WINS OF THE SEASON?
This is trickier than you might expect. Baylor beat four teams that were ranked at the time they played Baylor (#19 Syracuse, #18 Michigan State, #18 Oklahoma State, #8/#20 Texas), but none of those teams ended the season ranked. In fact, Baylor was the only Big XII team to end the season ranked in the top 25. Baylor's non-conference slate didn't help them much, either -- they tried (as evidenced by the fact that Syracuse and Michigan State were ranked when they played Baylor), but those teams ended up being worse than expected. The best team they played in the non-conference slate was Kentucky (ended the season ranked #11)... and the 'Cats beat Baylor. So Baylor's best wins were probably the quartet of wins they took off Texas and Oklahoma, two teams who each earned #5 seeds in the NCAA Tournament. Baylor beat Texas three times (twice in the regular season and once in the Big XII Tournament) and split with Oklahoma (winning at home, losing at Norman). Baylor's still a very good team, but it's fair to say that their resume isn't the most impressive -- especially when it comes to big-time wins.
HOW DOES BAYLOR LIKE TO PLAY?
In dominating fashion. The season stats for the Lady Bears are daunting. Baylor led the Big XII in scoring offense (79.8 ppg) and was third in scoring defense (58.3 ppg), good for a stunning +21.5 scoring margin this season. Baylor was also tops in field goal offense (48.1%) AND field goal defense (34.1%). Oh, and they were tops in rebounding (44.8 rpg) and rebounding margin (12.1 rpg) in the league. They were also tops in assists per game (20.9 apg), assists/turnover ratio (1.5), and defensive rebounds per game (30.2 rpg), and second in blocked shots (5.9 bpg) and offensive rebounding (14.7 rpg). There's very little that Baylor isn't good at. It's hard to find tempo stats for WBB, but Baylor seems fairly comfortable playing fast or slow. They score most of their points on 2-point shots, though -- they only attempt around 9.5 3-pointers per game (making around 3).
WHO ARE BAYLOR'S KEY PLAYERS?
You probably have to start with Big XII Player of the Year Nina Davis. Davis, a 5-11 sophomore F, led the conference in scoring (20.9 ppg) and finished fourth in rebounding (8.3 rpg). Davis shot 58.6% from the field and also converted 68.8% of her free throw attempts, while taking a Big XII-best 272 attempts from the line. She's particularly good on the offensive glass -- she led the league with 3.6 offensive rebounds per game.
Junior PG Niya Johnson keys the Baylor attack -- she's averaging an NCAA-best 8.7 assists per game. In fact, this game boasts the NCAA's top assist-getter (Johnson) and its #3 assist-getter (Iowa's Samantha Logic); if you enjoy high-level point guard play, this game should be right up your alley. Johnson isn't a huge scoring threat (7.2 ppg), but she is part of a Baylor scoring attack that's quite varied after Davis. Davis is the only player averaging double figures (although sophomore C Khadijiah Cave is awful close, averaging 9.9 ppg), but there are five Lady Bears players averaging between 7.2 and 9.9 ppg -- they have a lot of weapons who can hurt an opponent.
As noted above, Baylor doesn't attempt a lot of 3s -- just 9.5 per game -- and they only make around 3 per game. (In comparison, Melissa Dixon is averaging an NCAA-best 3.7 made 3s per game for Iowa.) Guards Imani Wright, Alexis Prince, and Kristy Wallace are the main threats from distance; they've each attempted around 100 3s this season, with Wallace (36%) and Prince (37.4%) shooting the best from out there.
WHAT IS BAYLOR'S WEAKNESS?
Baylor has only lost three games this season (74-64 to Kentucky, 68-64 to Oklahoma, 76-71 to Iowa State) and it's hard to find many common bonds across those defeats. Baylor shot poorly from 3 in all of them -- but, again, they're not a very good 3-point shooting team to begin with. They shot just 39% from the field against Kentucky and 41% against Oklahoma... but made 49% of their shots in the loss to Iowa State. One area they did lose in all three games: free throws. Kentucky made 26/33 (compared to 11/17 for Baylor), Oklahoma made 18/24 (compared to 10/11 for Baylor), and Iowa State made 16/18 (compared to 11/14 for Baylor).
Iowa's best shot in this game likely involves playing the best possible version of their standard game: they need to play at a fast tempo, they need to make it a transition-heavy game, and they need to shoot well from distance. Baylor scores a lot of points and I don't think they'll be terribly uncomfortable in a game like that... but they also look like they would do fine in a slowed-down, half court-heavy game, too. I don't think the same can be said for Iowa. Iowa probably needs Bethany Doolittle and Ally Disterhoft to post solid numbers inside and keep Baylor honest on the glass. They need Logic to have one of her typically brilliant stat-stuffing performances. And they could really use another torch the nets performance from deep from Melissa Dixon (and anyone else who wants to chip in from 3-point range).
Baylor will be a very tough opponent -- arguably the toughest team Iowa has faced all season (give or take Maryland). But this is a very good Iowa team, one that has the offensive firepower to trade blows with the Lady Bears. They also have no pressure on them -- Baylor's the team expected to make the Elite 8 and push Notre Dame for a spot in the Final Four. Hopefully that forces Baylor to play a bit tighter and helps Iowa play a bit looser. And if it's a close game, well, Iowa shouldn't be too rattled -- this team is led by a very experienced veteran corps (Logic, Dixon, Doolittle) and they went 12-3 in games decided by 10 points or less this year. (Baylor went 7-3 in such games, so they weren't exactly bad at it, either, although they're certainly less accustomed to playing games like that than Iowa.) Whatever happens, this has been a tremendous season for the Iowa women's basketball team -- let's just hope the ride isn't quite over yet and we get to watch them again on Sunday.
BONUS! Our blog buddies at Our Daily Bears have a preview of Iowa-Baylor up as well; go read that to get some perspective from the opposition.