Brice Cherry: Could Jordan Lewis be next on Baylor’s list of title-winning guards? | Baylor
The Baylor Nation showed up for their team in a Friday morning game.
Each of Baylor’s past national championship teams has been led by a dominant post presence.
The 2005 breakthrough squad included the tantalizing talents of Sophia Young, one of the greatest players in school history. In 2012, Brittney Griner – one of the most overwhelming two-way forces the women’s game has ever seen – marked Baylor’s 40-0 season with a bevy of blocks and a volley of colors. The 2019 squad was anchored by the two-trick tandem of Kalani Brown and Lauren Cox.
But you just can’t ignore the contributions of the guards on these teams. From Chelsea Whitaker to Odyssey Sims to Chloe Jackson, Baylor quarterbacks have delivered their own star-worthy turns.
In 2022, what is new becomes old again.
That is to say, Baylor’s championship hopefuls follow a similar formula. NaLyssa Smith is clearly the horse. She’s a great all-rounder like Baylor has never seen before, as adept at doing traditional big girl things as she is at facing and spacing, hovering and scoring. If Nicki Collen’s Bears have a chance to win it all, NaLyssa needs to be the first-team All-American she is.
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But don’t forget Jordan Lewis. She’ll have to play a “Best Supporting Actress” type role, just like she did in second-seeded Baylor’s 89-49 first-round game against Hawaii on Friday at the Ferrell Center.
If the Hawaii Rainbow Wahine had any aspirations to put a Polynesian spin on the old March Madness Cinderella story, NaLyssa Smith shattered them in the third quarter.
For all of Smith’s next-level prowess that she showcased in Baylor’s crushing third quarter, it was actually Lewis who led the Bears to score in their NCAA opener. She provided 23 points on 7-of-8 shooting from the floor while snatching eight rebounds and dispensing five assists.
It wasn’t just the statistical output that Lewis provided, however. It was how she got there that really mattered. Several times she attacked the basket as if her high top sneakers had wheels and everyone else’s sneakers were equipped with spurs.
That’s exactly what Baylor head coach Nicki Collen wants. An aggressive Lewis is the best kind of Lewis.
“Certainly she’s still on me about my being aggressive right from the tip,” Lewis said. “She says when I rebound offensively and defensively and give us extra possessions, it really drives the team forward. If I’m able to make those quick plays and get on the offense with pace, it’ll be good for all of us.
In the first half, when the game was still fairly close thanks to Hawaii’s Amy Atwell’s precision shot, Lewis gave the Bears wise leadership from the field. On a somewhat jerky first-quarter possession that seemed destined to result in a low percentage shot attempt, Lewis said to his defender, “Can I have that dance?” and fell in a step back 3.
Although she went 2 of 3 from range that day, Lewis was perhaps even more effective going to the hoop. His ferocious forays into the forest of trees free up space for Smith and Queen Egbo and bring an extra dimension to the Bears offense.
“Everyone’s asking before we’ve even played this game…what will it take for you to try to win a national championship?” Collen said. “I’ve talked a lot about Jordan and Queen. And I think Jordan, her ability to attack the paint and finish, gets to the free throw line – she had eight fouls fired today – so It’s aggressive. It’s downhill play.
It’s not a stat often highlighted in a score box. (Oh, by the way, God bless the NCAA for continuing to hand out printed scores in the all-digital age.) Right next to the most common PF (personal fouls) statistic, you will indeed find an abbreviation that is read FD , as in drawn faults. Lewis, as his coach hinted, proved to be a contact magnet against Hawaii simply because of his tenacious dribbling takeoff. Those eight fouls drawn were twice as many as anyone who played Friday’s game.
And I haven’t even mentioned the Lewis defense yet. So, do you remember Atwell? This cold-blooded Hawaiian forward scored 20 points in the first half as the Bears struggled to keep it a secret. So, at halftime, the BU coaches opted to send Lewis and the other guards in Atwell’s direction. The idea was to force her to put the ball on the ground, funnel it into the bigger assist defenders. And the scheme worked perfectly, with Lewis in the lead.
Lewis is a sixth-year senior. She’s no stranger to the rigors of Division I college basketball. And yet, the transfer grad from Alabama (she already has her master’s degree) is always enjoying fresh new experiences.
She has never played in such a good team. She never had a legitimate chance to win the national championship. Honestly, that’s why she found her way to Waco.
“I think that’s a motivating factor,” Lewis said when asked about the possibility of playing for the first Sweet 16 of her career on Sunday. “But I think that’s one of the reasons I came here to play for a program like Baylor, because they’re known for going to the Sweet 16 and known for competing at a high level.
“When you come here, you have to have the same competitive mindset and not settle for what’s going well.”
You can bet Collen will continue to encourage Lewis to stay in full attack mode. Message from Nicki: Take care of yourself, J-Lew, and let us be the best version of us.
Hey, it worked for Baylor before.