Generally speaking, exhibition games for Division I basketball teams give coaches the opportunity to tune up for the regular season. Their opponents, usually in-state Division II schools, benefit from the on-court experience of playing in big arenas against more talented teams.
“Exhibitions are just what they are”, said Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey about her team’s preseason games, “it allows you the freedom and the luxury to move kids in and out, looking at different things and combinations.”
Baylor University, ranked fourth in the USA Today/ESPN Division I Top 25 Coaches’ preseason poll, won its two exhibition games by wide margins. They beat St. Edwards University on Tuesday 97-43 before a crowd of 6,095. Five Lady Bears had double-digit points in that win and nearly every player on the roster saw action with freshman getting significant minutes yet making many errors in their first outing.
“I thought that they were probably like a lot of freshmen. They were a little bit nervous and excited at the same time,” said Mulkey. “The effort was there. The mistakes are going to continue to be mistakes until they become more comfortable and become more experienced.”
Fans came out in even larger numbers for Saturday’s night matchup against Incarnate Word University. They watched the private Catholic school receive the unfortunate honor of being the first college team to get dunked on by Baylor freshman Brittney Griner. The audience of 6,262 cheered for her three successful attempts during pregame warm-ups but they had to wait until the second half to see her do it in competition. The arena exploded and before the cheering finished, she followed up with a huge block on the other end of the court, sending the crowd into further elation.
“It excited me a lot but it really motivated the team and gave the crowd a spark,” said Griner. “We feed off of the crowd, so it got us going.”
Griner scored 25 points on 12-of-16 shooting with 11 rebounds and five blocked shots in 25 minutes. Senior forward Morghan Medlock added 12, freshman forward Mariah Chandler scored 10 and sophomore post Ashley Field eight.
Katherine Frost led Incarnate Word with 13 and Nia Torru had 11.
Once again, Baylor freshman played significant minutes but the onset of the regular season ends that trend.
“I played a lot of players (in the exhibitions) and some of those kids will not see the floor against Tennessee,” said Mulkey referring to the team’s upcoming away game in Knoxville. “That is just the way it is. You can’t play 12 players in a game of that magnitude-there are not enough minutes. I’ve got to now narrow this thing down and figure out what I have to do to compete with Tennessee. We will do that this next week.”
Medlock expressed enthusiasm mixed with trepidation about facing the Lady Vols so soon in the season.
“To be honest right now it is kind of mixed emotions,” she said. “We are all really excited but we are not stupid. We still have a lot to work on and thank God that we have this full week to prepare and get some more wrinkles out and take our time to do things right. We are definitely excited. We are anxious and ready for this thing to get under way.”
The game against Tennessee is part of the State Farm Women’s Tip-Off Classic (SFTOC) on Sunday, November 15 at 5 p.m. ET and televised on ESPN2. This year marks the sixth time the Classic has been held in the state of Tennessee and the fourth time Knoxville has served as host. Tennessee is making its seventh and Baylor its third SFTOC appearance.