Rising above the CompetitionNov. 11, 2005
by JORDAN DANIEL, sports writer
When the clock finally ran out on the Lady Bears' run in the 2005 NCAA Tournament, no other team could claim what Baylor had earned, and no one could take it away.
The 2005 Big 12 Conference and national champions dominated every team it played in the NCAA Tournament, winning each game by an average of 15.5 points, including a 22-point thrashing of Michigan State University in the championship game.
But this is a different season and a different team, and head Coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson wants to focus on this season
instead of basking in last season's success.
"We have a lot of new people and much less experience," Wabara said. "There's going to be a lot of mistakes by the young players and we're going to have to build our chemistry all over again.
The Lady Bears lost seven players from last year's championship squad, including All-American Steffanie Blackmon and veteran point guard Chelsea Whitaker, whose last- second layup against Texas Tech University vaulted the Lady Bears into the Big 12 Tournament title game against Kansas State University.
Also absent from this year's team is Chanelle Fox, a Houston guard who started 13 games last year and averaged two points per contest. Guards Victoria Jones, Chisa Ononiwu and Monique Jones, as well as forward Emily Niemann are also no longer a part of the program.
"We lost a lot of our scoring, but I think this team has a little more quickness and very good athletes, and I think that's going to help us out a lot," senior guard Jordan Davis said. "It is a different team, there's a different team chemistry and there's going to be a lot of change."
Davis, a Celina native, will share time at point guard with Austin sophomore Angela Tisdale. Tisdale will run the offense the majority of the time, taking the place of Whitaker, Baylor's all-time assist leader.
"This year's team has to run more, we have to be in better shape, we have to hustle and work harder because we aren't as talented as last year's team," Tisdale said. "If we work hard, we'll be able to get right back up there."
Friendswood senior Chameka Scott reclaims her starting position at shooting guard after averaging 7.8 points and 4.3 rebounds per game last season. Scott's 18 points and nine rebounds against the University of North Carolina propelled the Lady Bears into their first Final Four in school history.
"Realistically, we're just trying to put ourselves in position again to have a great season and do what we're capable of doing," Scott said. "That team last year was a national championship team and to be able to do that again would say a lot."
Joining Scott at shooting guard is 5-foot-7-inch Fort Worth junior Latoya Wyatt. Wyatt, a transfer from McLennan Community College, provided a spark off the bench for Mulkey-Robertson, dropping eight points and gathering six rebounds in 20 minutes.
Davis is also expected to contribute at shooting guard. The 5-foot-9-inch co-captain averaged 2.5 points per game, including a 17-point outing against Kansas State during the conference schedule. Davis also led the team in free-throw percentage, converting 95 percent of her attempts.
"Jordan understands that I'm going to need her to play the one and the two," Mulkey-Robertson said. "She's a fifth-year senior, and those two ladies (Davis and Tisdale) are going to need to carry the load in the backcourt."
Filling the shoes of post Steffanie Blackmon will be Parma, Italy, junior Abiola Wabara. Wabara is the best defensive player for Mulkey-Robertson and showed flashes of brilliance on offense, using her quickness and leaping ability to slash to the basket.
Wabara, who was named to the Tempe All-Region team in the NCAA Tournament, started 23 games last season. She stressed that this year's team is not the same as last year's.
"We have a lot of new people and much less experience," Wabara said. "There's going to be a lot of mistakes by the young players, and we're going to have to build our chemistry all over again."
Senior All-American and National Player of the Year candidate Sophia Young joins Wabara in the frontcourt after being named the 2005 NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player for her performances against Louisiana State University and Michigan State.
Young averaged 18.4 points and 9.3 rebounds last season, leading the Lady Bears to the Big 12 Conference title, Big 12 Tournament title and the NCAA championship. Young and Blackmon combined to become one of the most feared frontcourt duos in women's basketball history.
"Since I got to Baylor I have always played with Steffanie, and she has just been like my backbone pretty much all three years," Young said. "Now that she has left, now that she is gone, it's going to be a challenge. But I think that Abiola Wabara is going to step up a lot for us."
Senior forward Bernice Mosby, who must sit out this season after transferring from the University of Florida, will fill in for Young when she graduates at the end of this season.
With seven players departed, Mulkey-Robertson's freshmen could see more playing time than last year's class. Posts Tricia Abbott and Rachel Allison will provide much-needed depth in the frontcourt as the Lady Bears only list four forwards on this year's roster.
Both Allison and Abbott posted double-figure performances in Baylor's first exhibition game, scoring 13 and 17 points to help the Bears to a 54-point victory.
"I expected to be more nervous than I actually was," Allison said. "When I got there on the floor it pretty much went away when we got the ball in our hands."
Bay City freshman Jhasmin Player and Humble freshman Jessica Morrow provide depth at the guard position. A highly ranked player coming out of high school, Player was overwhelmed by the support the Lady Bears received in their first exhibition contest with the University of Arkansas-Monticello.
"The atmosphere is great," Player said. "The fans are great and its nothing like what I expected. It's far better."