The new women’s basketball podcast partnership between The Next, Locked On Women’s Basketball — Nicki Collen reflects on Baylor’s season — Must-click women’s basketball links

The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, March 23, 2022

Happy Basketball Wednesday, all! I want to highlight the deal we at The Next made today with Locked On to begin producing a five-days-a-week podcast about women’s basketball.

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I’ll link to the story here, but the short version is this: The IX, and the work we do with The Next (technically named The Next at The IX) is built with an eye on a fully-functional women’s sports media space across all women’s sports. How we get there is by funding this work at the highest level, as quickly as we can, through the subscriber revenue our paid supporters provide.

This dovetails with a few conversations I’ve had recently with fellow writers at The IX like Jessica Taylor Price and Annie Peterson. Both asked me about experimenting with different formats. My answer, of course, was yes: I want The IX to exist so THAT folks like Jessica Taylor Price and Annie Peterson can pursue the stories they deem important.

I do think I need to do a better job of explaining why we do what we do. I find myself, often, too busy doing the damn thing to do that, and self-promote. So I’ll just ask you all to also promote on our behalf. Because every single person here — I mean our writers, editors and photographers, but really, if you’re here reading, you as well — know why making sure a permanent, sustainably-supported space for independent women’s sports coverage is so important.

I get out of bed every morning trying to find ways to grow it further. We won’t stop. Not anyone who works here, and as I know from the incredibly supportive conversations I’ve had with so many of you, not you, either.

This week in women’s basketball

Lauren Betts signed with Erin Kane and Excel.
Mirin Fader on Destiny Littleton. 
I love this: Monika Czinano is writing about whether the NCAA is living up to its promises.
This is the primary reason the women’s tournament has fewer early upsets. When people suggest other reasons, send them this link!
My big takeaway from that night was Muffet running excitedly, shoes off, all over the back of the house doing interviews. What a fun night that was.
Fantastic Augusta Stone on Aliyah Boston.
Shakira Austin’s path is fascinating.
Cora Hall is a fantastic reporter.
Here’s Chantel Jennings on Hang Up And Listen!
PJ Brown on the untimely end to Arizona’s season.
And Michigan plays on.
Maitreyi, I don’t agree that it is only right Baylor lost, but I’ll defend your right to the death to say it in a fun read.
I live in a basketball hotbed, you guys.

Five at The IX: Nicki Collen, Baylor

(I appreciate, always, how real Nicki is. Here are some reactions from her after Baylor’s loss to South Dakota. Thank you ASAP Sports, God’s gift to journalists.)

Q. It seemed like they just played the way they wanted to play their basketball game and did it about as well as it could be done. Is that the way it looked from your sideline?

NICKI COLLEN: Sure, to some degree. I felt like — we looked like they were in slow motion to start the game. I think we played them pretty even after the 11-0 start. We had to foul a few times at the end and we were heaving shots up that weren’t normal rhythm shots for us.

And so it was — we have been able to this season, but I know the question was asked, well, like why these last three games. I mean, I don’t put Hawaii in the same category. I don’t think it was a slow start as much as they had a kid making some crazy shots, and then certainly we blew it open with a 34-point third quarter.

But I think three games in three days on our team was tough obviously in the conference tournament. I think today they were physical. They were really, really physical. We’re pretty finesse-y.

That’s our team. You know, we’re pretty finesse-y, not very big at the guard spots, and I think the game came down to points off turnovers. When you look at the box it’s a funny box, because certain things stand out to me that we did do better.

We assisted on 15 of our 17 baskets. Like we needed to share against them, because they were helping, and so the kick and the and-one and the practice pass, those were important things today.

They had ten assists. That’s a really good passing team that only had ten assists. So a lot of times it came down to late possessions where they put their head down and made plays and they had — I mean, when you look at their roster, 42 of the 61 points came from fifth year seniors that are playing this year because they had a COVID year.

They decided to stick together. You ask why are there more upsets this year? That’s why. I mean, it’s not complicated when you have sometimes like 23 year olds playing against 18 and 19 year olds. It’s going to happen on the men’s side. It’s not a women’s thing.

And those guys were great, especially at the beginning. I mean, their entire first half, they had two points in the first half that weren’t scored by their big three.

And then I thought we did a lot of things better as the game went along defensively when we got matched up better. You know, they were ending up in situations where they were in isolations late in the clock and they were so good at rim protecting with Lyss and Queen, but they were posting and holding and not letting us release off and get to help.

And do I think that’s illegal? No. But they did it, and they did it effectively the entire game. I think they called it with about a minute, five seconds to go was the first time they called that illegal post up.

They just did that super effectively, and then all of a sudden it’s their big guards playing against our 5″6″ guards trying to make plays late in the shot clock.

I thought they made a lot of really, really big plays tonight. We have to shoot the basketball better. We have good shooters that didn’t shoot the basketball well tonight.

Q. I know during this tournament only one team will end the season with a win. It’s been a wild year for you. I know it’s hard to put in perspective the year now, but what have you learned about Baylor and this team and just kind of where you want to take it having one year under your belt now?

NICKI COLLEN: Really? Can we talk about basketball? Got really good kids. I’ve got really, really good kids in that locker room that believe in what we are doing and the process. That’s so cliche. All coaches say that, you just got to trust the process. But change is hard. Change is really, really hard. For everyone. I don’t care how old you are, change is hard, especially when you’ve had success.

And so I’ve learned that I’m tougher than I would’ve ever thought. That I’ve learned. That I’m more resilient. I think I can coach with anybody in the country. I’ve got an unbelievable staff and, I think slowly and surely the Baylor family realized that maybe I do fit in here.

Whatever that sounds like or looks like or — and I think that was hard for them, too. I think change is hard, and so I’m incredibly grateful. I’m sure they’re not happy with me right now. That’s okay, because I’m not real happy with me right now either.

But, you know the one thing I refuse to do and will always refuse to do is put anything on our players. Ever. I’m just not wired that way. You know, I’m not wired to start talking about the future, because I think right now it’s about these guys in the locker room and their last game here.

And so I just think — I know we’re going to be okay, but right now it just hurts to not be planning a trip to Wichita.

Q. The points off turnovers, the turnovers weren’t that big of a difference, but it was 20 to 2 in points off turnovers. How did they capitalize that much more than you guys did?

NICKI COLLEN: Well, a lot of them — honestly, a lot of theirs were dead ball turnovers versus live balls, so — and points off turnovers can be a funny stat. Like without knowing 100%, you know, like it can be the possession. You know, you can throw the ball out of bounds and set your defense, and if they score, it’s still a point off turnover.

I have a pretty photographic memory, but I can’t line them all up. I just felt like they were so physical. We weren’t holding our seals early, and so we had some post entry turnovers.

We got better at that as the game went along, but I thought Sjerven did a good job staying loose. We weren’t holding and releasing and going and getting the ball.

So I think that was one of our early issues with turnovers. Secondly, when our guards were missing shots that they’re more than capable of making, they lost their confidence. They just — in the midst of the game, you know, and they made turnovers because they didn’t want to take the shot.

And that’s when you kind of know you’re beat, when you’ve got three really good guards that are really good shooters, who as a coach and staff and as a team you believe in, who are turning down shots and then attacking the lane and trying to play over.

And you know what? The back side two-on-one was there all night long. We knew it. But part of our — when we’ve had some struggles this season, some of that has been the size of our guards, the size of our back court. We just don’t have any big guards, other than our posts who we call big guards because everybody is a guard these days.

When we got deep in the lane and the attacking paint and open to the back side we had people that knew they were open, but we were trying to play over them rather than under them or between them.

And sometimes it needed to be one more dribble. You know, sometimes we needed to fan out a little more to create the windows and gaps to make those plays.

But it was just — it was that. You know, it was us like, Sarah, Jordan, Ja’Mee, they were just getting in there and trying to play over the defense, and they were — they’re all 5’10”. All their guards, everyone but Sjerven is 5’10”, so they’re all the same. They played big and they were really good on the outside.

Q. Caitlin talked about how this slow start felt like you were having to play from behind the whole game. How does that affect you mentally and what you’re able to do when you’re fighting to get back into a game?

NICKI COLLEN: Yeah, I mean it was a slugfest. It was super physical. You know, with Queen in foul trouble and Jaden turning her ankle, our bench got shorter than it’s been all season long.

We looked tired. We needed the timeouts just to catch our breath because they ran so much motion. I thought considering we had zero real prep to guard motion offense, we didn’t lose the game because of our defense.

You know, we didn’t. I mean, statistically they shot below 40%. They assisted — scored 20 baskets; our offense let us down. But it was a slugfest. It was physical.

We had to fight around screens for 20 seconds, 22 seconds, and then play one-on-one and try to finish a possession out.

It think it was just the nature that there are certain teams that you play against where — when you play against Oklahoma nine points is nothing. For them or you. Like it’s not.

You just know the number of possessions in the game, an 11-0 run is going to happen at three points during that game. In this game, you know, sometime being down 10 feels like 20 because you’re slugging it out every possession and having to work.

I just thought the physical part of the game wore us down. They were very, very, very physical with us.

Q. I know it’s really hard to lose on your home floor, but interested to hear your perspective on this, because you came from the pro game and have just observed college basketball for so long. Do we need to move all the women’s games to neutral sites? Is that going to help grow parity even faster?

NICKI COLLEN: I think we have to be clever about it. I don’t think we want to take away from the athlete. I think the fact that Creighton went into Iowa and won in front of a sellout crowd, kudos to the Hawkeyes fans for selling out their last three games. It’s incredible.

And great fans here in Waco this weekend. The one thing I don’t want to see our game do is go to neutral sites and not play in front of everyone. You look at the Big 12 tournament, and had Iowa State beating Texas in the semifinals. It would’ve been certainly 10,000 Iowa State fans, but instead there was a nice contingent from Baylor and one from Texas.

But it didn’t have the same — the building didn’t have the same energy as watching the Iowa State-Texas game and watching Texas beat Iowa State.

I would want to know that we have a plan for how to put people in the stands at neutral site games. If we do, awesome. I mean, I know it’s controversial to start talking about, but Debbie Antonelli has been talking about Sweet 16 in Vegas.

I think it’s a unique idea of how we can grow our fan base and fans can plan every year to be places. I think women’s basketball, people will travel, but is moving from Bridgeport to Hartford to wherever, is that really neutral each year? Would love to say yes. I would. I would really love to say yes.

We just lost, and I do think it would cause more upsets, but I also would want to know that the student-athlete experience was going to be really, really good, too, and that they were going to be creative in finding ways to fill the stands.

Because I know that when I played I would rather play in front of 10,000 people screaming against me than 500 people.

Q. Coach, NaLyssa Smith didn’t have her best day today obviously, but had an outstanding career. I know this is obviously your first year with the program and coaching her, but how would you sum up and want fans to remember her as well as your other seniors and this entire year?

NICKI COLLEN: I mean, NaLyssa had 2000 points and 1000 rebounds. That’s remarkable. It’s remarkable consistency. You know, I think especially as someone who got 2000 and a 1000 and didn’t start as a freshman. I don’t know that there has been a lot of — you have to go to to find that out, who has scored 2000 points in their career and didn’t start knowing that Kalani and Lauren were here.

She won a national championship and she was a big part of that. Obviously Lauren got hurt in that national championship game, and so a great player. I think a great player that developed her game. I think she’s the No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft. If she’s not, I’ll be disappointed, but that’s Mike Tebo choice.

I’ll just bother him if he gets it wrong. But I think NaLyssa is pretty quiet. She just kind of quietly goes about her business. She’s competitive. Had some of her biggest games when we needed her the most.

When she’s struggled at times she’s rallied, and then had huge games in second halves when we needed her. She came back from an injury against Texas and played all 20 in the second half, and I was prepared to not play her two seconds.

So I think she’s got warrior mentality. I still think her best basketball is still ahead of her. That’s not always the case. Some players show their best at the collegiate level and some people have a whole ‘nother level. I firmly believe NaLyssa has a whole ‘nother level to get to as she really understands the pro game and spacing.

I think long-term the kid can also be a kid that goes and gets a triple-double and becomes a really great passer, because she does so many things well with the basketball.

The other seniors, I mean, Jordan Lewis, in some ways I almost feel the worst for her, because when you have one year and your goal is to come somewhere and compete at the high level…

The other seniors have been there. They’ve been to Elite 8 and Final Fours, won a national championship. She came here to do something she hadn’t done before, and I don’t think it’s easy to come in and have the impact she had when you haven’t been in the program.

I think she quietly gained the respect of her teammates. In the summer she really kind of sat back and let other people lead. The more we challenged her to be a leader, because you could tell she had a great basketball IQ and I felt like she had the respect because she showed up and got extra shots, and she just is such a competitor.

You know, I’m grateful she said yes to coming here. She didn’t have to say yes. You know, I mean, yes, she had committed to come here, but there is nothing binding about a commitment when you’re transferring.

So I’m grateful that she chose to come here.

Queen, I told Queen, you know, she’s just one of those people that drives you crazy and that you love really hard all the time because she’s emotional, and there can be two sides to that.

I firmly believe that no matter what kind of mood that Queen was in that she was going to have my back. Queen hasn’t decided what she’s going to do yet. That will come sooner than later obviously.

But a great group. You know, I mean, I don’t know if I’m supposed to talk about Caitlin because she’s coming back, but how we played was really good for Caitlin.

She’s probably the one kid that maybe didn’t fit how they played in the past, so she was such a great team player but just never got a lot of minutes.

I thought she was our sixth starter all year long, and there were a lot times where we were better on floor without her. I mean, look at the game tonight. We couldn’t get any transaction. We were still plus three under 27 minutes.

The game changed when she was in it. She learned to play the 3 a little bit this year, which she’s never done before, and became a little bit of a big guard for us. Ja’Mee is coming back too, is a senior.

I think people don’t realize that Ja’Mee and Jordan and Sarah, she didn’t get a lot minutes here and Jordan didn’t play here, and Ja’Mee didn’t play here a year ago, so I thing think what we did was pretty special with three new starters at the guard spots.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By: Addie Parker, @addie_parker, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: @TheIceGarden, The Ice Garden
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Lela Moore, @runlelarun, Freelance Writer

Written by Howard Megdal

Howard is the founder of The Next and editor-in-chief.