Preview: Arkansas hosts Baylor

NCAA BASKETBALL: APR 07 Women’s Div I National Championship - Notre Dame v Baylor
DiDi Richards (with ball) is back from injury. | Photo by Mary Holt/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

NaLyssa Smith and Queen Egbo of the Baylor Lady Bears hope to dominate against the Arkansas Razorbacks’ frontcourt. Can the Razorbacks’ backcourt make this one close or will DiDi Richards’ defense be too much for them?

Things are beginning to get interesting in NCAAW basketball. On Sunday there are a handful of ranked matchups going on, including a game on ESPN2 and a game on ESPN. Can the No. 4 Baylor Lady Bears, No. 11 Kentucky Wildcats and No. 12 Texas A&M Aggies assert themselves? Or, will the No. 16 Arkansas Razorbacks, No. 13 Indiana Hoosiers and/or No. 25 Texas Longhorns shake up the rankings?

On Sunday at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN2, Baylor will take on Arkansas as the Lady Bears aim for program victory No. 1,001. DiDi Richards has returned from a spinal cord shock injury for Baylor and helped the program secure its 1,000th win on Dec. 1. However, the South Florida Bulls gave Baylor a scare in that contest, only losing by five.

NaLyssa Smith lived up to her billing as the Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year with 25 points and 15 rebounds in Baylor’s opener — a blowout win over the Central Arkansas Sugar Bears. Smith’s frontcourt mate Queen Egbo then took a turn as Baylor’s star in the win over South Florida. After Smith and Egbo, the Lady Bears have received decent contributions from the rest of their players. Richards leads the team with seven assists despite having played in just one game.

The top of Arkansas’ roster is guard-heavy with four high-volume 3-point shooters. Chelsea Dungee, Oregon State transfer Destiny Slocum and Amber Ramirez lead the way, but don’t forget about Makayla Daniels, who is averaging 15.8 points per game on the young season, trailing only Dungee and Slocum. Arkansas already has four wins, but lost to the No. 14 Maryland Terrapins. The Razorbacks allowed the Terps to score 115 points, which is now the Terps’ program record for points against a ranked opponent.

With two of their main stars being post players, the Lady Bears are going to want to turn this one into a battle in the paint and will need to shut down Arkansas’ perimeter. The Razorbacks were 8-of-25 form beyond the arc against Maryland and their best sharpshooter, Ramirez, was 1-of-4. Those numbers aren’t terrible, but Arkansas is going to want a better performance against Baylor.

No. 13 Indiana Hoosiers vs. No. 11 Kentucky Wildcats

Junior guard Grace Berger and sophomore forward Mackenzie Holmes have been the stars so far for the Hoosiers, with senior guard Ali Patberg not far behind. Watch out for senior guard Jaelynn Penn, though, because she is due for a breakout game.

Kentucky won its first two games without the services of reigning SEC Player of the Year Rhyne Howard, who was suspended for “not upholding the standards of the program.” Howard returned for the team’s most recent win over Kansas State and the Wildcats’ other suspended player, Tatyana Wyatt, will be back against Indiana.

Howard was held to eight points against Kansas State even though she played 37 minutes. She too is due for a breakout game or maybe even a monster one and it would be nice to have that against a ranked opponent. If she doesn’t put up a lot of points, Kentucky will look to Chasity Patterson, who is averaging 17 points through three games. Dre’una Edwards has also stepped up for the Wildcats with 15 points and 9.3 rebounds per game.

The Hoosiers have two blowout wins on their resume but have yet to face any difficult competition.

No. 12 Texas A&M Aggies vs. No. 25 Texas Longhorns

It seems like not long ago that Texas junior Charli Collier was just starting to break out during her sophomore season. Now, she is the projected No. 1 pick in the WNBA Draft. Meanwhile, A&M’s N’dea Jones is a worthy competitor who received national attention for her phenomenal play while Chennedy Carter was injured last year. She picked up where she left off and has recorded double-doubles in each of the Aggies’ three games so far.

As far as supporting casts go, A&M is well-rounded with contributors at all positions. In addition to Jones, who is a power forward, center Ciera Johnson and guards Kayla Wells and Aaliyah Wilson are playing well early in the season. Meanwhile, Minnesota transfer Destiny Pitts is going to be an X factor for the Aggies if not a star. Right now she is averaging 9.7 points per game off the bench.

Collier’s co-star is sophomore Celeste Taylor, who is also playing well to start the season. In addition to juniors in Collier, Audrey Warren and Joanne Allen-Taylor, freshmen Ashley Chevalier, DeYona Gaston and Shay Holle will be expected to do big things for Texas this season and have already shown potential.

Game Information

No. 13 Indiana Hoosiers (2-0) vs. No. 11 Kentucky Wildcats (3-0)

When: Sunday, Dec. 6 at 4 p.m. ET

Where: Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, KY

How to watch/listen: ESPNU/WHCC 105.1 FM or Kentucky Wildcats TV

Key to the matchup: Rhyne Howard. She’s going to be the best player on the floor and is going to create problems for Indiana’s defense. Notre Dame Fighting Irish transfer Danielle Patterson may be the leading candidate to guard her. Patterson is a 6-foot-2 guard/forward like Howard and is averaging 21.5 minutes per game off the bench. But if Howard, who likes to play on the perimeter, gets matched up on Grace Berger or Ali Patberg on either end of the floor, it will be hard for Indiana to manage her one-on-one.

Reason to watch: It’s a border battle between two great basketball schools and should be evenly matched.

Highlights: Rhyne Howard is not afraid to shoot from anywhere

No. 4 Baylor Lady Bears (2-0) vs. No. 16 Arkansas Razorbacks (4-1)

When: Sunday, Dec. 6 at 6 p.m. ET

Where: Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville, AR

How to watch/listen: ESPN2/Baylor All-Access

Key to the matchup: Baylor’s guards. The Lady Bears know they will have the advantage in the post. They need a great defensive performance on the perimeter from last year’s national Defensive Player of the Year in DiDi Richards to ensure a victory. Richards needs to shut down the likes of Chelsea Dungee, Destiny Slocum and Amber Ramirez. On the offensive end, redshirt junior Trinity Oliver has been the highest-scoring guard for Baylor so far. The Lady Bears need some significant scoring from her or DiJonai Carrington or Moon Ursin or freshman Sarah Andrews.

Reason to watch: You get the chance to watch DiDi Richards back and healthy and see a lot of WNBA-level talent.

Highlights: Trinity Oliver and Sarah Andrews going head-to-head in a scrimmage

No. 12 Texas A&M Aggies (3-0) vs. No. 25 Texas Longhorns (3-0)

When: Sunday, Dec. 6 at 8:30 p.m. ET

Where: Frank C. Erwin, Jr., Special Events Center in Austin, TX

How to watch/listen: ESPN/TUNEIN (Texas A&M) or Texas’ athletics website or 105.3 FM local radio in Austin

Key to the matchup: The battle between stars Charli Collier and N’dea Jones in the post. A&M is the higher ranked team but Collier could sway the balance in Texas’ favor if she wins that matchup.

Reason to watch: It’s a big rivalry between two Texas schools and Longhorn head coach Vic Schaefer was an assistant coach with the Aggies when they won the national championship in 2011.

Highlights: Charli Collier has turned it up a notch this year

Also in action

Utah vs. No. 10 Oregon

Colorado vs. No. 17 Oregon State

USC vs. No. 7 Arizona

No. 9 UCLA vs. Arizona State

No. 1 South Carolina vs. No. 23 Iowa State