Lady Bears No. 1 seed again in NCAA Dallas Region
WACO, Texas (AP) — Kim Mulkey and Baylor could face some familiar postseason foes if they keep winning games as the top seed in the Dallas Region.
Also in that region are No. 3 seed Louisville and No. 4 seed Texas A&M, their former Big 12 rival. Those teams beat the Big 12 champion Lady Bears when they were a top seed in past NCAA Tournaments.
"Well, I’m not going to talk much about those guys because we all have to win to meet up in the Dallas Region," Mulkey said with a smile after the brackets were revealed Monday night. "But isn’t that funny. Those two guys had our number the last times we played."
Pac-12 champion Oregon State (28-4), which has won 18 of its last 19 games, is the No. 2 seed.
A potential second-round opponent is Auburn, the last unranked opponent to beat the Lady Bears on their home court — 13 years ago in the WNIT final. That was the only of Mulkey’s 16 seasons they didn’t make the NCAA Tournament.
Still, Baylor was rewarded after winning the Big 12 regular season and tournament titles for the sixth consecutive year. They open at home — Friday against Idaho (24-9) — and with two home wins would advance to Sweet 16 for the eighth consecutive year. That round is at the Dallas Mavericks’ home arena only about 100 miles from the Waco campus.
"Being a No. 1 seed once again, back from my freshman year. … Hard work pays off," said Niya Johnson, one of three Baylor seniors with their last chance to make a Final Four.
When Baylor was a No. 1 seed for the first time in 2011, the Lady Bears lost to Texas A&M in the Dallas Region final. They were also a No. 1 seed in 2012, when they had their 40-0 national championship season, and a top seed again in 2013, when they lost to Louisville in the Sweet 16 when Johnson was a freshman on a team with All-America players Brittney Griner and Odyssey Sims.
"It’s even more motivating," Johnson said. "It just brings back memories, and we’re more than ready."
That was the second time Louisville beat Baylor in the Sweet 16. The Cardinals were national runner-ups to Connecticut in both 2009 and 2013 after beating Baylor in the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
Baylor fans watching the selection show with the team moaned when both Louisville and Texas A&M were revealed on the bracket.
The Lady Bears made it to a regional final each of the last two seasons, both ending with losses to Notre Dame.
The only way for there to be a third consecutive postseason matchup between Baylor and the Fighting Irish would be if both make it to the national championship game April 5 in Indianapolis. The Lady Bears are on the side of the bracket that could lead to a national semifinal game against three-time defending national champion UConn.
"UConn is the team to beat. UConn is just better," said Mulkey, who also won a national title in 2005. "But I’ve won a national championship at Baylor when the better team didn’t win. I’ve lost a national championship when the better team didn’t win."
Oregon State opens the Dallas Region at home against Troy (19-11), and Louisville (25-7) is home Friday against Central Arkansas. Texas A&M (21-9), now in the SEC, hosts Missouri State (24-9), which is in its first NCAA Tournament since 2006.
In the other first-round game Friday in Waco, No. 8 seed St. John’s (23-9) takes on Auburn (19-12).
The only other Big 12 team in the Dallas Region is No. 7 Oklahoma State (21-9), the only team to beat Baylor this season — in the conference opener Dec. 30 before the Lady Bears won their last 20 games, including a 25-point home win against the Cowgirls. Oklahoma State plays St. Bonaventure (23-7) at Corvallis, Oregon.
No. 6 seed DePaul (25-8) takes on James Madison (27-5) in Louisville, in a matchup of teams that lost to Baylor during the regular season. No. 5 seed Florida State (23-7), which the Lady Bears beat by 38 points in the second round of the 2013 NCAA Tournament, takes on Middle Tennessee State (24-8) in College Station, Texas.