Early in the third quarter of Saturday’s 75-50 win over Kansas State, Baylor senior forward Dekeiya Cohen lobbed a high-arching post feed to Kalani Brown. The ball would have soared out of bounds over most players’ hands. Brown snatched it with ease.
The junior center caught the ball over her back shoulder. She stood behind the backboard, facing the baseline with a defender on each hip. Most players would have panicked at the threat of a double team, pivoted around and looked desperately for a teammate to rescue them.
Brown didn’t need to.
She dribbled once, banged into the defender on her right and jutted her arms out a few degrees backward before flicking the ball up. The baseline referee blew her whistle for a foul on Kansas State as the ball skimmed off the backboard and through the hoop.
Brown made the ensuing and-one free throw. She finished the game with 33 points, 19 rebounds and two blocks.
“She’s a smart basketball player,” said Texas senior guard Ariel Atkins, who played with Brown over the summer on the United States’ under-23 team. “She doesn’t necessarily just throw up anything you give her. She knows how to kick the ball out. She knows when you take some things away from her, she can just go the other way.”
Plays like this are routine for Brown. The 6-foot-7 post is big for No. 3 Baylor in every sense of the word. She’s tied with Kansas State junior center Anastasia Tsybaeva as the Big 12’s tallest player and leads the conference with 21.7 points per game and a 70.6-percent shooting percentage.
Brown’s vertical advantage has helped the Bears (17–1, 7–0 Big 12) tear through the NCAA this year. They’ve won 14 straight games, each by at least 22 points, since their lone loss of the season to then-No. 8 UCLA.
“I’ve seen (Brown) grow a lot,” said Texas head coach Karen Aston. “Her conditioning is better. She’s got a few counters now and can hit the high-post shot. She’s added a lot to her game, she’s much improved.”
Historically, No. 6 Texas (15–3, 6–1 Big 12) has been mystified by Baylor’s dominance — and Brown’s, too.
The Longhorns lost 14 consecutive outings to the Bears from 2011–16. Texas finally snapped the streak with an 85-79 upset in Waco on Feb. 6, 2017.
Brown scored 24 points in that game. She followed it up in the rematch at the Frank Erwin Center with a 35-point, 13-rebound performance in a 70-67 Baylor win two weeks later.
“We tried a lot of different things, tried helping off the ball, but again we didn’t have an answer for (Brown),” Aston said after the loss. “She got exactly where she wanted most of the evening and she was tremendous. She’s a tremendous talent.”
Aston will need to find an answer when Texas travels to Waco to take on Brown and the Bears on Thursday. The Longhorns are loaded with canny defenders who can normally hold their own in the paint.
Brown isn’t normal, though. Even Texas’ longest bigs come up a full three inches shorter than her. So how do you stop her?
“(You) jump on her back,” Atkins said.