Baylor No. 1 overall seed in women's tournament
WACO, Texas (AP)
Brittney Griner and undefeated Baylor finally get to play the games that matter most of all - the ones that could take them to another national championship and a 40-0 season.
The Big 12 champion Lady Bears (34-0) will be far from home for the NCAA women's tournament despite being the undisputed No. 1 overall seed. They go to Ohio first, and if all goes as planned, then to Des Moines, Iowa, and ultimately Denver for the Final Four.
''This is what we've talked about all year, these six basketball games,'' coach Kim Mulkey said. ''Everybody's healthy today and you're headed in with a focus like none other than I've seen in a while. It's reflected in how we're playing right now, and we just want to continue it.''
Baylor, which would become the NCAA's first 40-win team with a second national title, opens against Big West Conference tournament champion UC-Santa Barbara (17-15). The first-round game is Sunday in Bowling Green, Ohio.
Mulkey put together a challenging schedule to prepare the Lady Bears for where they are now. They have responded with a Big 12-record 34 wins in a row, and winning those games by an average margin of more than 27 points.
''Definitely, these six games are what we've been waiting on and we're ready to go,'' said Griner, the 6-foot-8 junior phenom. ''I'm ready to go get on a plane and go out there now.''
Baylor, the 2005 national champion, made it to the Final Four two years ago in Griner's freshman season before losing to eventual national champion Connecticut. The Lady Bears made to a regional final last year before a crushing loss to Big 12 foe Texas A&M, which went on to win the national title.
Motivated by that bitter ending against a team they had already beaten three times, the Lady Bears haven't lost since.
Already this season, Baylor has defeated No. 3 Connecticut, No. 4 Notre Dame, No. 9 Tennessee and No. 14 St. John's in a game at Madison Square Garden. UConn and Notre Dame are also No. 1 seeds in this year's NCAA tournament and ninth-ranked Tennessee is the No. 2 seed in the same bracket as the Lady Bears.
''This team, in every situation you can put them in, a great non-conference schedule, championship games, zone defenses, press defenses, man-to-man defenses. ... I don't know that there's anything else we could have done to prepare ourselves for the last six games,'' Mulkey said.
Baylor is in its 11th NCAA tournament, all in Mulkey's 12 seasons.
Last year, the Lady Bears played their first two NCAA games at home in the Ferrell Center - already selected as a host site for next year's tournament. Then they went 100 miles from campus to Dallas, where they lost to the Aggies.
''I don't think I really ever expected Bowling Green, Ohio, but I've never been there,'' Mulkey said.
Griner is averaging 23.3 points and 9.4 rebounds a game, along with 175 blocked shots. She has scored more than 40 points twice in her last four games.
Baylor is going for 40 wins. Connecticut and Tennessee are the only women's teams to win 39 games in a season; the Huskies have done it three times.
After going 18-0 in the Big 12 during the regular season, the Lady Bears swept through the conference tournament with three more victories. They finished with 73-50 championship game victory over No. 22 Texas A&M, beating the Aggies for the third time in the same season again and matching their victory total from last season.
The only way Baylor and Texas A&M could play a fourth time this season, before the Aggies officially move to the SEC, would be if both get to the national championship game April 3 in Denver
Sophomore point guard Odyssey Sims averages 14.6 points and has more assists (157) and steals (105) than turnovers (97) while averaging 32 minutes a game for Baylor. Junior post player Destiny Williams is averaging 9.9 points and 9.3 rebounds a game.
Santa Barbara last went to the NCAA tournament in 2009, when they lost 74-39 to Stanford. The Gauchos, who have never played Baylor, don't have a double-figure scorer, and the tallest player on the roster is 6-foot-2.
The other first-round game at Bowling Green has Ohio State playing Florida.
''I really don't know anything about any of the three teams,'' Mulkey said.
But be assured that those teams know about Griner and the Lady Bears.