So maybe the Baylor Lady Bears have another special and very difficult date with history after all. Remember, that would be their third such date with history. By that I mean their third opportunity to win a national championship in major college women’s basketball.
This one will have to be against Notre Dame, who beat frequent national champion Connecticut in the game that followed the Baylor Lady Bears’ victory over Oregon in last Friday’s Final Four Semifinals.
Texas A&M coach Gary Blair won one such championship, led by the team’s MVP, Danielle Adams. Texas women’s basketball coach Jody Conradt won one national crown with her great player, Kamie Ethridge; and Texas Tech women’s coach Marsha Sharp won one national title with her equally great player, Sheryl Swoopes (also great in the pros).
Oddly enough, Texas A&M’s national title game was against Notre Dame. Baylor’s first crown, led by Sophia Young, was won against Minnesota State (which was favored to win, as I recall), and the second (featuring 6-8 Britney Griney) also came against Notre Dame. Texas’ national championship game came against Southern Cal; and Texas Tech’s crown was won against Ohio State.
So if the Lady Bears’ third crown is won Sunday night it also will come against Notre Dame and will be led by who can say (6-7 Kalani Brown, 6-5 or 6-6 Lauren Cox or maybe another of Mulkey’s defensive aces or wing players who are also sharp shooters?).
Regardless, it figures to be a great game and it is nice to remember the Lady Bears have not lost a game since way back on December 15 against Stanford on Stanford’s home court. Since then they have not lost a game, not a one, and that includes powerful UConn in Waco, also against all Big 12 opponents, also the teams the Lady Bears had to play to win the Big 12 Conference Tournament, then all the other teams they had to play and subdue before reaching the NCAA’s Final Tournament at Arnelie Arena in Tampa, Fla.
It was in that Arena that the Lady Bears shot down the University of Oregon’s great 3-point shooters last Friday night and beat them, 72-67, enabling the Lady Bears to carry a 36-1 record with them when they tip off against Notre Dame Sunday night.
As Oregon coach Kelly Graves noted after the game, his team did not go down easily.
“We tried our best. We worked hard. I’m really proud of our team, no question about it. We certainly belonged to be here. We had our chances down the stretch. But in the end, Baylor made the plays and we didn’t. I just don’t know if we ever got our kind of game going, just bits and pieces of it here and there. I have to give credit to Baylor and a really good defensive team. Our field goal percentages were much lower than normal, and we turned it over 13 times, three more than our average. Ult[D1] imately, that cost us. So credit Baylor. But again. I just want to say I’m really proud of my team. They took us on a great journey.”
As for the other Lady Ducks, their comments can be summed up by Erin Boley when she was asked if Baylor’s size wore her teammates down. “Obviously, they have two great post players (Brown and Cox).” And her teammate Sabrina Ionescu said this: “They have two of the best players, very tall, very athletic. They were beasts inside. We had to adjust and we didn’t.”
As for the Baylor players, DiDi Richards said this: “I think they are a real hard team to guard. But we stuck to our defense and came out with the win.” And Lauren Cox added this: “They’re tough, always moving, always setting screens, kicking it out, making threes.” And this came from Kalani Brown: “It was pretty hard. You had to keep your head on a swivel. Towards the second half, I thought we had a better defensive team.”
As for Kim Mulkey, she said this when asked if she realized the Lady Bears were outscored 36 to zero from the three-point line: “I don’t know. We don’t play that style of basketball. I think the style that they play is very good for their personnel. They don’t have 6-7 and 6-5 in the paint. If they did, I cannot imagine that they would be shooting that many threes.
"You change and you run offenses based on what your kids are capable of doing. We’ve been very blessed at Baylor to have the grinders and the Destiny Williams, the list goes on. I think that’s why we get post players. People whose daughters are big, they don’t want to sit there all night and rebound and kick the ball out to three-point shooters, set screens for three-point shooters all night. I think with the post players, we don’t have to shoot a lot of threes. DiDi will cut off our post being double-teamed. Juicy can shoot the the three. I have a couple of three-point shooters on that bench. Their day’s coming, that freshman class ranks so high.”
So back to the game itself. The scoring by quarters went like this: Baylor won the first quarter, 19-15; Oregon the second quarter, 19-14; Baylor the third quarter, 23-21; and Baylor the fourth and decisive quarter, 16-12. So it all added up to a great Baylor victory, 72-67, one that found Brown scoring 22 points and Cox scoring 21, Richards scoring 15, Landrum and Jackson both scoring 6 and Nalyssa Smith 2.
Cox also had a double-double (21 points and 11 rebounds and also 7 assists; she also hit 9 of her 14 field goal attempts). Richards was 6 of 10 of her field goal shots, Landrum was 3 of 8 and Jackson 3 of 11.
Oregon’s scoring was led by Sabrina Ionescu with 18 points (4 of 11 on 3-pointers). Satour Sabally had 16 points and Erin Boley had 14 (she was 4 of 12 on 3-pointers).And Maite Cazoria had 9 points (one from long range).
But of all the Big 12 Conference and old Southwest Conference Conference women’s coaches, only Baylor women’s basketball coach Kim Mulkey already has won two national championships; and if the Lady Bears can just defeat Notre Dame this coming Sunday night, that third national title will belong to this 2018-19 team of Lady Bears and coach Mulkey. And no other coach of a major university team in Texas has won more than one.