From around the Big 12: Update on Baylor's health, Texas's hopes
DiDi Richards expects to play this season though the timetable is unclear, while Texas coach Vic Schaefer is bullish on the team's tournament chances
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Updates from Baylor
After last week’s scary collision between Baylor senior guards DiDi Richards and Moon Ursin, the tandem was cautiously optimistic about their ability to return to 100% for the upcoming season. Richards, whose spinal injury raised more question marks than Ursin’s concussion, said she expects to play this season.
During the press conference, Baylor athletic trainer Alex Olson and head coach Kim Mulkey described the collision in detail — information we did not know heading into the week. After an inbound pass in a scrimmage, both players went up for a loose ball, and at the height of their jump Ursin’s forehead hit Richards’ hip, sending both players down to the ground and knocking Richards unconscious for about one minute. Thankfully, she was lucid when she came back, but could not walk and as such was sent to the local hospital. Since the collision, she’s predominantly had issues with her legs and said her walk is not yet back to 100%.
The good news: Olson confirmed that there was no structural damage to Richards’ spine. We don’t yet know when she will be back since SCIWORA injuries have no defined timetable.
Uncertainty hasn’t hampered Richards’ spirit of course. She is known as one of the most outspoken, high IQ players on the Lady Bears, and has been a vocal participant at practice and a helpful leader from the bench.
Moving forward, Coach Mulkey’s concern rests on her team’s depth — without Ursin and Richards, her options at guard are barren at best.
“We don't have a lot of depth, and the teams who survive and win this year particularly in basketball will be those who have the most depth and the most experience,” Mulkey said. “While we have the talent and some experience back, we don't have them in the roles that they played last year.”
Sophomore guard Jordyn Oliver, who is expected to take over at point guard with Richards’ out, is a prime example. She’s the team’s most experienced ball-handler but averaged just 9.6 minutes last year.
Granted, Oliver proved her worth as a playmaker, averaging 2.3 assists per game. Take it with a grain of salt, but that’s 9.8 assists per 40 — for reference’s sake, about the same rate we saw from Sabrina Ionescu last year. Again, it’s a low sample size and one that Mulkey is reasonably concerned about. Freshman Sarah Andrews, the 12th-ranked player in her class, should also get some early burn for the Lady Bears. After all, Baylor has just nine healthy players on the roster.
Outside of Preseason Player of the Year NaLyssa Smith, the team’s similar weapons find themselves with a new set of responsibilities (read as: they have to score the ball this year). Defending Sixth Person of the Year Queen Egbo could see a bump in production as a center who carried the bench unit in her own right last year.
These women can produce. But last year, they could lean on Lauren Cox, Te’a Cooper, and Smith to produce, as long as they stuck to their roles on the defensive end. Baylor could have gradually brought them into the flow of the offense. Now they don’t have a choice.
Coach Schaefer bullish on Texas
New Texas head coach Vic Schaefer did not hold back his optimism during a recent press conference and beamed about his team’s energy and enthusiasm.
“There's two kids that got a motor, and that motor is infectious,” Schaefer said. “Charli Collier … and Celeste Taylor, those kids go really hard every day. And when you've got that going on, it spreads to the rest of your team.”
Schaefer inherited a roster that he did not recruit, but he’s been pleasantly surprised with the freshman bunch, particularly in the case of Ashley Chevalier.
“Kid goes really hard, to exhaustion, and that's what you want kids to do,” Schaefer said. “Her basketball IQ is what you would expect from a kid that comes from a coaching background, her mom and dad both are coaches. I think that permeates through your team when you have players like that.”
One of the major areas of focus ahead of this season is Collier’s ability to carry a defense. Foul trouble and help-side defense have been gloomy (though not glaring) weaknesses for Collier in the past, and she’ll need to shore those concerns up against Baylor’s bigs. But it’s an issue Schaefer is confident they’ve fixed.
Texas basketball tips off on Wednesday, Nov. 25, against an SMU squad that finished sixth in the AAC last season.