WACO, Texas — Baylor coach Kim Mulkey wouldn’t say exactly how or what she said to Lauren Cox in the locker room at the end of the 6-foot-4 post player’s freshman season a year ago.
“But I challenged her right in her face, and I think she accepted the challenge,” Mulkey said. “She’s in the best shape of her life. Her diabetes is under control. … When you do all the things you’re supposed to, and you feel good, you do good.”
The Lady Bears (33-1) are in their 10th straight Sweet 16 after Cox led them with 24 points and 16.5 rebounds per game in wins over Grambling State and Michigan to start the NCAA Tournament. The power forward has four double-doubles in a row, including the semifinal and championship games of the Big 12 Tournament.
“I think a lot of it goes back to last year. We had five really good post players, and I learned a lot from that,” Cox said. “And this year just working with Kalani (Brown). We work really well together. This time of year, I knew I was going to have to step up.”
Brown, selected by coaches as the Big 12 player of the year, is a 6-foot-7 junior who leads the Lady Bears with 20.1 points and 10.2 rebounds a game this season. Cox, the other half of the duo that Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer referred to as “Double Trouble,” averages 15.3 points and 9.8 rebounds.
As a freshman, Cox started only once and played about 13 1/2 minutes a game. She averaged 7.6 points and 4.1 rebounds.
“Lauren Cox signed to come to Baylor when we had a slew of post players and All-Americans,” Mulkey said. “That tells you what an unselfish kid and also how confident she is in her ability.”
Cox was also away from home in Flower Mound, Texas, for the first time with more responsibility for monitoring the Type 1 diabetes she has dealt with since she was 7 years old.
“Freshman year, all of them will tell you is the most difficult year of their lives. Not just in sports, but in life,” Mulkey said. “You’re leaving your comfort zone at home. And while she’s close, Flower Mound is certainly not that far away, she has to deal with diabetes. So now she doesn’t have mom in there to nag her every day about did you check this, did you do that.
“So all of the things that a normal student would have to deal with as a freshman, add a little bit to Cox’s plate,” she said.
Her blood-sugar levels have to be monitored constantly, even during games.
Cox missed a trip to then-No. 8 UCLA after being hospitalized with complications from her diabetes, with symptoms of dehydration, nausea and vomiting caused by strep throat.
Mulkey also didn’t make that Nov. 18 game, Baylor’s only loss, after her daughter lost her unborn girl.
The Lady Bears, with a 30-game winning streak, play Oregon State on Friday night at Lexington, Kentucky. They try to get to their fifth straight Elite Eight, but haven’t been to the Final Four since their 40-0 national championship in 2012.
“We just want to get over the hump of that Sweet 16 and Elite Eight,” Cox said, “And get ourselves to the Final Four.”