With many new faces, Texas looks to leave its on-court struggles against Baylor behind
During the previous five basketball seasons, Kyra Lambert routinely circled two dates on her calendar.
Lambert was playing at Duke back then, so the two games scheduled each season against North Carolina were always worth noting. The Duke and North Carolina men get plenty of publicity when they play, but Lambert insists there is no love lost between the women at those schools, either.
Lambert described the Duke-North Carolina games as a "brawl." She added that there is no such thing as rooting from the fence. On those days, you're either a Tar Heel or a Blue Devil. Pick a side.
"I've played in the biggest rivalry in college basketball," she said.
On Sunday, Lambert will be introduced to a new rivalry. Now a graduate transfer and starting point guard at Texas, Lambert will travel with the Longhorns to Waco for a battle at Baylor.
Over her five years at Duke, Lambert's Blue Devils went 9-1 against North Carolina. Now she finds herself on the other side of a lopsided rivalry. Texas owns a 58-43 lead in the all-time series with Baylor, but the Lady Bears have won 22 of the past 23 meetings.
Last season Baylor coasted to 64-44 and 69-53 wins over UT. That's the bad news for the Longhorns. The good news? Like Lambert, many of the players currently at Texas bear no responsibility for UT's recent losses to Baylor.
Of the 10 players UT will have available this weekend, only Charli Collier, Celeste Taylor, Audrey Warren and Joanne Allen-Taylor have appeared in a Texas-Baylor game. Texas will probably start all four of those players Sunday. Warren and Allen-Taylor, however, were role players last year.
"We've got a few of them that have been a part of it. How big of a part just depends on what season it was," UT coach Vic Schaefer said. "You're hardly a part of it if you're sitting there on the bench. You're a part of it when you're in the fray, when you're in the fight. I think our kids, if they're like our staff, we're just on to the next one."
The UT coaching staff has also been overhauled since last season. Schaefer, though, does have some history with Baylor. In 2017, his Mississippi State team bested Baylor in overtime in the NCAA Tournament's fourth round. Schaefer was also an assistant coach at Texas A&M when the Aggies and Lady Bears were contemporaries in the Big 12.
On Friday, Schaefer said he has a cordial relationship with longtime Baylor coach Kim Mulkey. Schaefer compared Mulkey's 2017 Baylor squad to a WNBA team. He also reached out to Mulkey after the coach's coronavirus diagnosis in January.
"I think there's mutual respect," Schaefer said. 'I think we both understand our jobs that we have to do. At the same time, we're both very similar in that we're family people."
This season, Baylor is ranked seventh in The Associated Press' poll. An 82-50 rout of Texas Tech on Wednesday was the Lady Bears' seventh straight win.
In the beating of the Lady Raiders, Baylor did not allow a 3-pointer. Nationally, the Lady Bears rank second in field-goal percentage defense.
"We take a lot of pride in our defense, period,” Mulkey told reporters last week. “Field-goal percentage defense, if you look throughout the history of our program, we’ve won that award a lot with the NCAA. Whether it’s at the 3 or wherever, it means a lot to us."
Entering this weekend, Baylor (15-2, 10-1) and Texas (14-5, 8-4) sat in first and fourth place in the Big 12 standings. The Lady Bears and Longhorns held half-game leads over West Virginia and Iowa State, teams that had games scheduled Saturday. Ahead of the season, Baylor and Texas were picked by the conference's coaches to be the Big 12's champion and runner-up.
Texas is coming off a Wednesday win over Oklahoma State. That 64-53 victory helped UT avenge a 68-51 loss to the Cowgirls in Stillwater in January.
"That was really good to see us bounce back and bounce back in such a fashion to where we're getting better as a team," Lambert said. "We're just going to ride that momentum up into Sunday."