Baylor's Kalani Brown, Lauren Cox form unstoppable post duo

Lauren Cox launched a shot Saturday that stuck between the rim and the backboard. Kalani Brown glanced at her, as if to say, "You got this?" Cox did, jumping up to knock the ball free. Both the 6-foot-7 Brown and the 6-foot-4 Cox easily could do that, but here's the thing: Most of the shots they take go through the net.

Brown, a junior center, leads Division I women's hoops in field goal shooting at 72.3 percent. Cox, a sophomore forward, is at 52.7 percent. Brown averages 21.5 points and 8.8 rebounds; Cox is at 15.1 and 8.9. Combined, they have 75 assists to 49 turnovers, and 50 blocked shots.

The post duo for No. 5 Baylor is formidable, to say the least.

"It's just fun to go to work every day to see those two kids who want to play together," Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said after the Lady Bears' 83-48 victory at Kansas on Saturday. It was their 11th win in a row, and none of them have been close. Baylor is outscoring foes this season by an average of 37.1 points.

The Lady Bears' 91.2 PPG average is second in D-I only to UConn's 91.3. And Baylor's 54.1 PPG allowed is sixth-best in the country.

Baylor (14-1 overall, 4-0 Big 12) has a gritty senior point guard in Kristy Wallace, another senior, Dekeiya Cohen, who is providing strong support in the post, and promising young guards like sophomores Natalie Chou and Juicy Landrum and freshmen Alexis Morris and Didi Richards. And then Brown and Cox anchor the inside as a post duo that -- like South Carolina's 6-foot-5 A'ja Wilson and 6-foot-4 Alaina Coates last season -- makes everything difficult for foes.

The Jayhawks understood that they would need a fantastic offensive performance to even make a dent in Baylor's dominance.

"We knew it was going to be tough sledding around the rim," Kansas coach Brandon Schneider said. "You're not going to be in the game against a team of their size and caliber unless you can make double-digit 3s."

The Jayhawks didn't come near that, making 3-of-23 shots from behind the arc. But that's the situation the Lady Bears put teams in. Try to score on them inside? Good luck with that. Try to do it from outside? They can guard you there, too.

And offensively, the Lady Bears are just as tough. As Iowa State's Bill Fennelly said after an 89-49 loss on Jan. 3, "That's a great Baylor team. For us, it's borderline impossible to guard them."

Fennelly, mind you, is the dean of the Big 12 coaches, and he's strategized against some great centers in the league over the years, including Kansas State's Nicole Ohlde, Oklahoma's Courtney Paris and Baylor's Brittney Griner.

But having two post players like Brown and Cox -- plus players around them who can shoot -- puts a huge strain on any defense.

"They're so skilled, they play off of each other really well," Fennelly said. "Their system is not real complicated, but it's very efficient in what they do and how they do it. To their guards' credit, they don't force bad shots. They take their turns. They're a complete team. When you have that kind of length and size, it challenges at both ends of the floor."

Baylor made 12-of-23 3-pointers against Iowa State, which almost seems unfair when you have the post play the Lady Bears do.

"When they shoot it like that, we're in a lot of trouble," Fennelly said. "A lot of [opponents] are in a lot of trouble."

All of Baylor's foes thus far have been in trouble, except UCLA. The Bruins handed Baylor its only loss this season, 82-68 on Nov. 18 in Los Angeles, but neither Cox nor Mulkey were on that trip.

That week was difficult for Baylor. Mulkey's daughter, Makenzie Fuller, lost her baby, who was dealing with two potentially fatal defects and died before delivery. And Cox had to be hospitalized after strep throat resulted in complications with her diabetes.

Mulkey credited support from the Baylor community with helping her, Makenzie, and Makenzie's husband, Clay Fuller, cope with the loss of baby Scout Marie. Makenzie is Baylor's associate director of basketball operations.

And the team as a whole seemed to bond together even tighter after the loss at UCLA. Just five days later, Cox was back in action at the Junkanoo Jam tournament in the Bahamas, where she had 18 points, 10 rebounds and 7 blocked shots in beating Missouri State.

"I've been good since then," Cox said of managing her diabetes. "I think I have a good handle on it now. It was definitely a learning experience, just because I'm away from my parents, who helped me a lot at home. We have great trainers and doctors here at Baylor to help me, too."

Cox is from Flower Mound, Texas, about 20 miles northwest of Dallas. She came to Baylor last year despite what was then an abundance of posts. She knew her playing time would be limited as a freshman -- she averaged 7.6 points and 4.1 rebounds in 13.4 minutes per game -- but that it would allow her to learn from some very experienced players.

"Last year, we had five posts, and if you made a mistake you could be rotated in and out," Cox said. "I think this year, I'm more relaxed and comfortable."

As for Brown, she fully came into her own last season as a sophomore, leading Baylor in scoring (15.4 PPG) and rebounding (8.2 PPG) in 21.4 minutes per game. She's a powerful lefty who has worked at being stronger with her right hand and improving her footwork. A deft spin move in the lane against Kansas, for instance, showed both.

As for her incredible shooting percentage, Brown credits the Baylor offense's ability to attack both zone (which the Lady Bears are seeing a lot) and man-to-man defenses to help her get good looks. Once she gets the ball in scoring position, few can do anything to stop her.

That's one of the ways her game resembles that of her idol, Minnesota Lynx center Sylvia Fowles, who was the WNBA's MVP last season. Brown is from Slidell, Louisiana, which is part of greater New Orleans. Fowles, a Miami native, went to LSU from 2004 to 2008.

"I think I've tried to build my game completely around hers," Brown said. "I love her so much; she's my favorite WNBA player. I feel like we're alike in certain ways. I still feel like I'm not in tip-top shape -- that dominating shape -- but I'm still working on it."

That has been especially needed, because she will play a lot. Due to graduation, transfers and injuries, Baylor is down to nine healthy players. For Brown (27.7) and Cox (26.0), it has meant an increase in minutes, which has made them all the more comfortable with each other.

"Lauren and I last year really didn't get to necessarily show what we're showing this year on the court," Brown said. "But we worked on it a lot in practice. And now we know each other well enough that I know where to throw it to her, and she knows the same for me."

Mulkey knows the team's depth presents some challenges.

"Your concern is injuries and how you handle practices," Mulkey said. "You've got to make sure you get what you need with nine players. The personality of this team is we get on the floor, we get our work down, we get off the floor.

"They are extremely intelligent. When you give them a scouting report, you better make sure you don't make a mistake, because they'll catch it."

Baylor, which has won two national championships, has had great posts in the past, led by Sophia Young and Griner. Both worked well in duos with other Lady Bear posts, such as Steffanie Blackmon (who combined with Young for 48 points in the 2005 NCAA final) and Destiny Williams (who added 12 points to Griner's 26 in the 2012 NCAA final).

But Brown and Cox are a little different in just how well they complement each other game in and game out, while also individually presenting such a challenge for the opposition.

"Griner was the best at playing above the rim; everything went through her," Mulkey said of how focused the Lady Bears' offense was on the current Phoenix Mercury star, who finished at Baylor in 2013.

"But you think of two with their size, with the passing skills they have, that can shoot facing the basket, that can stretch the defense, that can basically both finish with double-doubles and play well together. If they stay healthy and continue on down this path, it's interesting to see what they'll do."