Editor's note: Charlie Creme, Graham Hays and Mechelle Voepel each vote to determine espnW's national player of the week, which is awarded every week of the women's college basketball season.
Baylor center Kalani Brown had 19 days between her worst game of the season and her best. During that time, coach Kim Mulkey told her, "You're just too good to have another game that bad."
The bad one was in the Lady Bears' 68-63 loss to Stanford on Dec. 15, as Brown had just five points on 2-of-7 shooting. After a two-week break from games, Baylor clobbered overmatched UT Rio Grande 98-37 on New Year's Eve. Brown played 17 minutes in that game, getting 13 points and six rebounds. It was a tuneup.
The marquee test came Thursday when No. 1 UConn visited. Brown needed a big game, and she delivered with 22 points and 17 rebounds, earning espnW national player of the week honors.
Baylor's 68-57 victory over the Huskies was UConn's first regular-season loss since 2014. It could play a factor in NCAA tournament seeding and was just the thing that the Lady Bears needed before heading into Big 12 play. Baylor has won or tied for the league championship the past eight seasons, and the Lady Bears are favored to win the conference again. But having a victory over UConn on the résumé is a big boost.
"Our team was extremely energetic," Brown said. "Our defense was outstanding. I think our size affected their shots when they were penetrating. Everyone had a job, and they did it. Me, defensively, moving my feet -- I think I did a good job with that."
Baylor led 51-47 going into the fourth quarter, and Brown saved her best for last. She had eight points and eight rebounds in the final period, going 4-for-5 from the field. The 6-foot-7 Brown is known for her prowess on the low block, but she also was able to hit some jump shots. That made her all the more difficult to guard.
"That's a part of her game that I think has really improved," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "And she was really confident shooting them."
As expected, Baylor owned the inside, outscoring UConn in the paint 52-10.
"Their offense is pretty basic: Throw it into the big guys," Auriemma said. "It's not easy playing against them. It never has been."
There was no letdown by Baylor on Sunday in its Big 12 opener at Texas Tech. The Lady Bears controlled the game from the start, winning 73-56. Brown had a little foul trouble, but Baylor didn't need her to play much. She had 10 points and two rebounds in 10 minutes, while Baylor's freshman post players, NaLyssa Smith and Queen Egbo, combined for 33 points and 17 rebounds.
Brown had already done the most important heavy lifting of the week for Baylor. As one of the players in the mix to be a lottery pick in the WNBA draft in April, Brown has a few more months to make her case. Her showing against UConn certainly worked in her favor.
Also nominated: Bridget Carleton, Iowa State; DiJonai Carrington, Stanford; Ciara Duffy, South Dakota; Natisha Hiedeman, Marquette; Sabrina Ionescu, Oregon; Destiny Slocum, Oregon State; Kiana Williams, Stanford
Previous winners: Kristine Anigwe, Cal (Nov. 12) | Kierra Anthony, Louisiana Tech (Nov. 19) | Jackie Young, Notre Dame (Nov. 26) | Christyn Williams, UConn (Dec. 3) | Jenna Allen, Michigan State (Dec. 10) | Alanna Smith, Stanford (Dec. 17) | Sabrina Ionescu, Oregon (Dec. 24) | Katie Benzan, Harvard (Dec. 31)