It was going to be a runaway, a landslide for coach Kim Mulkey and her Baylor Lady Bears. With Kalani Brown and Lauren Cox leading the way, the Lady Bears had moved into a comfortable lead and obviously had superior weapons in their arsenal. At the start of the second period they had charged ahead to a 33-22 advantage, and it was still 43-31 at halftime.
But with 1:22 left in the third period, things changed. Cox suddenly was on the hardwood floor, her face twisted in pain; Baylor coach Mulkey was bending over her, so were trainers and medical staff. Soon she was leaving the game, being assisted to the Baylor dressing room. When we next saw her she was limping, wearing a knee brace; obviously she would play no more that day.
And then here came Notre Dame, moving closer to the Lady Bears, moving ever closer. With 2:37 left it was a 1-point game with Notre Dame in front.And then Chloe Jackson, that transfer guard from LSU, that girl the Lady Bears simply had to have when Cox went down and stayed down, when the clock was ticking, ticking, ticking, now under 10 seconds, Jackson made her move to the basket, Notre Dame’s Jackie Young trying to guard her. Maybe nobody could have denied Jackson right then. Her shot went up and in.
The Lady Bears were two points ahead.
The Fighting Irish still had one last opportunity, The Lady Bears were called for a foul, sending Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale for two make-or-break free throws. She made only one.
Baylor inherited the opportunity to throw the ball in. Time left to play: 1.9 seconds. The final teeveee sight found a Baylor Lady Bear player holding the ball and with confetti raining down.
Mulkey pointed to Cox’s injury as a huge blow that her team had to oversome. “We controlled the game from the start until she went off the floor and we had to regroup,” she pointed out. “For us to win probably was a miracle in itself when you lose a player of that caliber. Not only the talent she has, but people, she’s our leader.”
So, friends and neighbors, that wasn’t merely a national championship game. It was an unforgettable classic, one that came wrapped in Baylor green and gold, the third such national NCAA university women’s national championship that Mulkey’s Lady Bears have won for Baylor University and her fans. No major university women’s basketball coach in the state of Texas or the Big 12 Conference has won more rhan one. And assuming Cox returns hale and hearty (and after her injury, her Baylor teammates assured her they won that championship for her), and Mulkey continues to recruit winners and wants to coach more years herself (and receives appropriate compensation from Baylor), you have to think her championship list can continue to grow as well. I hope so.
And while we’re thinking about the future, maybe we also should give a shout-out to the guy who hired Mulkey. His name is Tom Stanton. At that time, he was Baylor athletic director Tom Stanton; and knowing what Stanton also has done for the Hall itself, perhaps this is the time that Texas Sports Hall of Fame board members ought to remember that name, too, and do something appropriate for him.
As for the championship game in Tampa, the stadium audience was a hefty 20,127; Baylor led at halftime, 43-31; Notre Dame connected on 7 of 13 three-point shots (Mabrey was 4 of 8) and Baylor hit 2 of 7 such long-range attempts (Juicy Landrum was 2 of 7).
As for the high-point leaders, Notre Dame was led by Arike Ogunbowale with 31 and Marina Mabrey had 21; and Baylor was led by Chloe Jackson (also voted the tournament’s “most outstanding player”) with 26 and Kalani Brown had 20). And Baylor’s 6-4 junior Lauren Cox also was one of those five players named to the elite All-Tournament Team.
Baylor ended the season with a record of 37-1. Notre Dame was 35-4.
And what a season it has been: Mulkey was named the Associated Press “Coach of the Year for Women’s Basketball”, and Texas Tech’s Chris Beard was named the Associated Press “Coach of the Year for Men’s Basketball”. Has this state dominated the AP’s selection in those two departments before in the same year? If so, I cannot remember it.
Here are a few post-game comments from the coaches and players:
Said Notre Dame Muffet McGraw: “I’m just really frustrated. I’m sad for the seniors that we came that close after getting down 17, then clawing our way back. We had so many opportunities on both ends of the floor. The offensive rebounding that we gave up just really lost the game for us in the first quarter. We just didn’t come out ready. That was disappointing.
“But I thought Jackson really was the key to the game. We really couldn’t guard her. And Brown gae us a lot of trouble as well. Those two really played well.
“It was a great season.Certainly a great career for Arike, Marina, Jess and Bri.”
Question: Was Arike Ogunbowale trying to miss the second free throw: Replied McGraw: “Yeah.”
McGraw also noted that Brianna Turner “is incredibly competitive, fiesty. I mean, it hurt us when she got the two fouls in the first haf because we lost our edge.She was really the one who was getting things done on the floor. It was difficult playing without her.”
And this came from the Baylor coach and players in the interview:
First, the questions were directed at the players: Said Chloe Jackson, when asked what she did to get open and sink the game-winning field goal: “It was the same play we ran against Oregon on Friday. Coach Mulkey told me just to get to the basket. If the wing helps over, kick it (the ball) to Juicy. That’s what I did.”
"Kalani, I remember you saying your goal was to get to the Final Four. Now that you’ve done everything by winning the national championship, how does it feel to add to your resume?” Replied Brown: “Feels great. That was the last thing on my checklist. Now I’ve checked it off. So I’m happy.”
Question: “When Lauren got hurt, what was going through everybody’s mind? I saw you kind of pull everybody together. What were you thinking in that moment?” Replied Jackson: “It was tough when she went down. Obviously, she’s our leader, one of our leaders, also obviously Kalani. We just had to come together, Our motto is ‘Together to Tampa.’ We had to stick together. We knew it was going to be tough without her. That was what was going through our heads.”
Question: “With Lauren out of the game, how big was NaLyssa Smith and how she played?” Replied Kalani Brown: “NaLyssa got some big baskets. She came in there like she would not be denied.She gave us that spark, for sure, because it was like we said, we don’t miss a beat when they sub in.”
...Question: “Chloe, you didn’t score in the first half against Oregon. You had your Baylor high tonight. Where did that come from, that it happened in the biggest moment of your Baylor career?” Replied Jackson: “I just wanted to come out tonight being more aggressive. I knew they obviously were going to be on our post players. So I would get some open looks. So I just came out early looking for my shot, looking for what the defense was giving me. But really the confidence came from my teammates and my coaches. They gave me the confidence I needed to go in there, really be confident, knock down shots.”
Question: “Kalani, when the final horn sounded, you went directly to Lauren on the bench. What did you share in that moment?” Replied Brown: “I just told her, we did this for you. When she went down, I can say we got a little rattled. But we had to pull it together, pull it out for her. The whole time, she was there on the sidelines. She was still involved. I mean she came out of that tunnel… I think that speaks volumns about her character. So I was just like, we did it for you, babe.”
Question: “With 9:26 to go, Chloe, you pick up your foul. Take us what it was like with Kim Mulkey, in your own mind, what followed that decision.” Replied Jackson: “Well, I just looked at Coach Mulkey. She was like, you have four. I was like, Okay, I got you. I’m not going to foul out. I knew my team needed me. I just had to play good defense and not pick up another one, to stay composed.”
Question: “Kalini, can you reflect on closing the circle in this way with Coach Mulkey? Replied Kalani: “It’s definitely going to be hard leaving Baylor. But I left a good note. I want to thank Coach Mulkey for choosing me because this is the best thing ever. I don’t even know. I’m just glad to bea a part of this team.”
So now the questions were thrown at Coach Kim Mulkey. First came a question asking her to make an opening. And this is what she said:”I’m going to do that because I may never get a chance again. I want to thank the NCAA Women’s Basketball Committee. They got it right on geography, as best they could. Geography is always going to play a part. They most importantly got it right on the S-curve. The City of Tampa, what great memories my basketball team is just going to Tourney Town, signing autographs. The Hotel, we’re at the Grand Hyatt which was way far away, but the Tampa police made me feel like Moses when they were parting the sea. They would stop the traffic and the kids just got a kick out of filmimg that. And, Notre Dame, do I need to tell you how good they are? They’re the defending national champions, can score at all positions; they played the zone against us, I don’t think people thought we could score against the zone. We scored a lot of points. It was just a great game for women’s basketball.
“The worst part of the game was Lauren Cox. We controlled that game from the start until she went off the floor. We had to regroup. For us to win was probably a miracle in itself; when you lose a player of that caliber, not only the talent she is, but she’s our leader, people. She’s our leader.
For her to come back out there to that bench, help those teammates, tell them things. NaLyssa Smith, having to go out there and guard a senior post player, you know they’re going to expose her on the defensive end. But it never let it rattle her. She came back. Every time she gave up a basket, she made a basket.
Well, that is my opening statement. I’m done.
Question: “You gave your eye makeup a workout after the game was over. Talk about where all that emotion came from.” This was Mulkey’s answer: “It starts with Lauren Cox. For two years in a row we’ve had major injury to key players.Last season Kristy Wallace gets hurt and tears her ACL in the last regular conference game, and it cost us. It cost us an opportunity to get here last year. When Cox went down and didn’t get up, I know my kids.I knew she was seriously injured. But from the time I left her on that floot to get to that huddle, I had to regroup. I needed to regroup. I needed them to understand. We’re still going to win this basketball game. It will be a little tougher now, but we’ve got to battle. And we did.”
After a few more questions, this one closed the evening: To be the champ, you got to beat the champ. No one is going to accuse you of backing into this, are they?”
Mulkey’s reply was this: “I hope not. A lot of people thought we had the easiest region to get here. When you’re the overall No. 1 overall seed, you should have the easiest region. We weren’t playing in our backyard. We had to go East Coast time, play in Greensboro. We got home at 1:30 in the morning. We had to leave at 5 p.m. the next day. We’re moving on fumes. But it’s a great kind of tired. Guys, that wasn’t a fluke out there. So don’t sit here and write that Baylorlucked up and won on some miraculous shot, they played over their head. If you look at the stats, we shot 60 something percent and 50 percent something in the first half. Cox goes down, we still keep it up there pretty high.
“That’s against a very good team that played a lot of zone that that I don’t think a lot of people thought we could attack zone because we don’t shoot threes.
“Well, the old school won the championship. What ever that means, I don’t know what ‘old school’ means. I just know how to win. Do what your personnel is capable of doing…
“So the tears kept flowing. I was emotional about Cox’s injury. That kid, if she didn’t get hurt, and she will be back -- God works in mysterious ways -- would have been the No. 1 pick in the draft next year. That kid probably would have been the No. 1 defensive player next year. That’s how good she is. And she will be back. It may take her a year. We’ll rest her, do whatever.
“But you write that, because that kid’s going to start winning awards she should have won this year. She got overlooked because she’s on a great team and because those stats don’t just, bam, jump out at you.”
Editor’s note: Baylor fans need not worry. The latest word from the medical experts Tuesday was that Cox won’t need surgery; instead, with rest and proper rehab treatment, she should be fine. Let’s hope so.