We've come to take for granted UConn's dominance in conference play. But Baylor has done the same thing in the Big 12 for nearly a decade.
In a season in which several of the projected No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament have been upset, Baylor has avoided stumbles in 2019. The Lady Bears' lone loss was at Stanford in December, and they keep churning toward securing the overall No. 1 seed.
On Saturday, the No. 1-ranked Lady Bears won 73-60 at Iowa State to claim their ninth consecutive Big 12 regular-season title outright and move to 25-1 overall and 15-0 in the league. They doubled up Kansas 80-40 on Wednesday to earn at least a share of the title. But over the past several years, Baylor hasn't shared much with the rest of the league.
The Lady Bears tied West Virginia for the regular-season title in 2014, and they lost the Big 12 tournament final to the Mountaineers in 2017. Other than that, everything has belonged to Baylor.
In 2009-10, the Lady Bears finished sixth in the league -- tied for the worst Big 12 finish in coach Kim Mulkey's Baylor career, matching her 2000-01 inaugural season -- yet still went to the 2010 Final Four.
Since the Big 12 went to 10 teams, the league has had full round-robin play. So, everyone gets two shots at Baylor, but the Lady Bears have lost just seven Big 12 regular-season games in nine years.
This season isn't over yet. To get their second consecutive perfect conference record, and fourth in program history, the Lady Bears need to win home games against Texas (on Monday) and Oklahoma State (Saturday), and then win at West Virginia on March 4.
Texas is in second place at 11-4. Iowa State and West Virginia are tied for third at 10-5 after the Mountaineers' surprising loss at home on Saturday to Oklahoma.
Texas made its meeting with Baylor in Austin, Texas, on Feb. 4 interesting with a late rally, but the Lady Bears still prevailed 74-68. Baylor has lost just once to Texas since 2010.
Baylor has been fortunate in avoiding injuries so far; that wasn't the case last year, when they lost senior point guard Kristy Wallace in the regular-season finale. And the Lady Bears have not struggled at guard, a perceived potential weak spot after Alexis Morris was dismissed from the program before the season started.
Guard play, in fact, has been solid, led by graduate student Chloe Jackson, who scored a team-high 18 points on Saturday. Fellow guard Juicy Landrum had 16 points. In Baylor's loss to Stanford, post play let down the Lady Bears, but Kalani Brown and Lauren Cox haven't let that happen again. They combined for 23 points and 21 rebounds against the Cyclones.
Charlie Creme's latest top 16, in order of seed in each region:— ESPN Women's Hoops (@ESPN_WomenHoop) February 23, 2019
Greensboro: Baylor, Mississippi State, Oregon State, Miami
Chicago: Louisville, Stanford, Iowa, Marquette
Albany: UConn, NC State, Maryland, South Carolina
Portland: Notre Dame, Oregon, Iowa State, Gonzaga
Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly made a passionate plea Saturday for senior Bridget Carleton to be Big 12 player of the year. And she has a strong case, getting 28 points in both matchups with Baylor and averaging a league-best 21.8 points per game.
Mulkey, of course, believes the honor should go to Brown, who has won the award last season. We'll see how the rest of the Big 12 coaches vote.
But Baylor is the Big 12's best team once again, without a doubt. The Lady Bears haven't been back to the Final Four since winning the championship in 2012 at 40-0. Yet they are positioned to make a strong run at being in Tampa, Florida, in April.