Baylor Bears

Baylor’s Aledo duo enjoying freshman ride to NCAA Sweet 16

Baylor freshman Justis Szczepanski, left, attempts to pass the ball in the second against Kansas in February. Szczepanski has played in only 17 games this season, scoring 12 points and pulling down 30 rebounds.
Baylor freshman Justis Szczepanski, left, attempts to pass the ball in the second against Kansas in February. Szczepanski has played in only 17 games this season, scoring 12 points and pulling down 30 rebounds. AP

As freshmen on a team as good as the Baylor Lady Bears, it can be hard adjusting to the college level.

But teammates Alyssa Dry and Justis Szczepanski have shared this ride long before they arrived in Waco.

Their friendship goes back to their days at Aledo High School, where both were all-district players, and at IMG Academy in Florida, where the two transferred for their senior season.

“It’s been a long journey and it’s great coming into a new environment such as Baylor, already knowing someone, knowing their playing style and having experienced basketball already, so that’s been awesome,” Szczepanski said.

Baylor (35-1), ranked No. 4 in the nation, takes on No. 17 Florida State (25-7) in the Sweet 16 of the women’s NCAA Tournament at 3 p.m. Saturday (ESPN) at American Airlines Center.

Dry and Szczepanski had outstanding careers at Aledo.

Dry was named the District 7-4A MVP her junior year after averaging 16.2 points, 4.7 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 4.2 steals a game. Szczepanski was named Defensive MVP with averages of 14.5 points, 8.2 rebounds and 4.0 blocks a game.

Both were all-state that year, and Szczepanski was also all-state her sophomore year. Dry made all-district three times and was the 2012 newcomer of the year for District 5-4A.

“I think Alyssa and Justis, first off, are outstanding people and their time will come,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. “But they work hard, teammates love them and they’re just getting better and better.”

The pair has combined for only 25 games and 128 minutes. However, they contribute in other areas.

“I definitely feel like it’s a blessing to just be able to provide positive energy to our team even from the bench,” Szczepanski said.

“I’m sure they’ve had to adjust not playing as much as they’re used to,” Mulkey said. “They’ve been tremendous team players, they have improved tremendously and their day will come.”

And being a part of a national contender such as Baylor has helped their freshman season go a little smoother.

“I think being a freshman and getting the opportunity to already be a part of the Sweet 16 is an amazing feeling,” Dry said.

Dry has family ties with Baylor, as well as TCU. Her father, Mike, played football at TCU (1979-81) and grandfather, F.A. Dry, was TCU’s football coach (1977-82) and a Baylor assistant (1984-92). Uncle Dennis Lindsey played basketball at Baylor and is the general manager of the Utah Jazz, and cousin Jake is a basketball freshman at Baylor. Brother Dalton plays at TCU.

Mulkey, in her 16th season with Baylor, has taken the Lady Bears to the NCAA Tournament 15 times and is a two-time NCAA champion (2005, 2012). Baylor is in its eighth consecutive regional semifinal and looks for its third consecutive regional final, set for 8 p.m. Monday.

The Lady Bears lost their Big 12 opener 52-45 to Oklahoma State on Dec. 30, but have won 22 consecutive games since then.

“I thought after the Oklahoma State loss, I saw a team that got better and better and better,” Mulkey said. “Obviously, the loss kept us focused, but I’ve never walked off a court where I thought our team didn’t improve this year.”

Going up against a Florida State team that’s in its second consecutive regional semifinal and 11th NCAA Tournament in the past 12 years, there could be plenty of offense, as Mulkey suggests. The Seminoles beat Texas A&M 74-56 in the second round.

“I think it will be a very entertaining game offensively, and I hope that our defense is just a tad better than them,” Mulkey said.

The winner of Saturday’s game will play the Oregon State/DePaul winner.

Oregon State defeated St. Bonaventure 69-40 in the second round. The Beavers, No. 6 in the nation, are in their first Sweet 16 since 1983.

DePaul, No. 20 in the nation, defeated Louisville 73-72 in the second round on Jessica January’s free throw with 14.5 seconds left. The Blue Demons are in their fourth consecutive Sweet 16.

Baylor vs. Florida State, 3 p.m. Saturday, ESPN

DePaul vs. Oregon State, 5 p.m. Saturday, ESPN