Louisville-Baylor Preview

Even after guiding Baylor to the national championship last
season with the same group of core players, coach Kim Mulkey still
doesn’t understand the way her team goes about preparing to play a
game.

With smartphones, televisions and other technology serving as
potential distractions all around the locker room, Mulkey has
figured out that her best place to spend her time before the game
is anywhere else.

“I just stay away from `em because the way I get prepared for a
game when I was a player and now as a coach is a lot different than
young people do,” Mulkey said Saturday. ” … It’s not that
they’re not focused. It’s just away from the court that they’re
college kids. Sometimes we forget that.

”So, I learned about their sophomore year to not walk in that
locker room before a game because the way I think you should
prepare for a game may not be the way they prepare for a game.
Whatever they’ve been doing, it’s been successful, and you don’t
want to change `em.”

Led by All-American Brittney Griner, the top-ranked Lady Bears
(34-1) have won 74 of 75 games leading up to Sunday’s game against
No. 5 seed Louisville (26-8) in the NCAA tournament’s round of 16
in the Oklahoma City regional.

Griner and her fellow seniors made it to the Final Four in 2010,
then lost in the regional finals in 2011 before winning it all last
year.

Mulkey said she exerted her influence on this group of players
earlier in their careers, making sure all the personalities meshed
to create a productive environment for the team. She recalled
benching starter Jordan Madden for being too ”silly” on the floor
at one point.

”When you leave that floor, if they’ve given me everything they
have, I have to let them be college kids after I let them out of
that locker room,” said Mulkey, remembering that she had a bag
phone once and there might not have even been a stereo in the
Louisiana Tech locker room when she won a national title there.

”It’s the floor that you are mainly concerned about, how they
represent you on that floor.”

So, she’s fine with Griner being a free spirit, Madden being
happy-go-lucky and Brooklyn Pope being sarcastic if the results
keep coming. Griner took time to make sure players were seated in
what she considered the appropriate spots – with her the farthest
right – before Baylor’s question-and-answer session could
begin.

”Everybody on this team hates to lose. We love to win. That’s
motivation enough right there,” Griner said, noting that Mulkey
challenges the team to win each segment of the game between
timeouts, no matter if the score is lopsided.

Louisville’s Jeff Walz joked twice that he’d try to sneak six
players onto the court to try and keep it a close game,
particularly since the Lady Bears have played just three games
decided by single digits this season – including their only loss,
at Stanford in November.

”I’ve told our kids, `If you come out and play scared, it’s not
going to matter,” Walz said. ”So we’re going to try to come out
and attack.”

Making it this far has been a matter of persevering through a
rash of injuries. The Cardinals absorbed the loss of Tia Gibbs,
Asia Taylor and Shawnta’ Dyer while Monique Reid has been limited
by a knee injury. All had starting experience.