Baylor women No. 1 seed playing on home court again
WACO, Texas (AP) Reminders of past Baylor championships are clearly visible despite black curtains throughout the media area that is usually the practice court for the Lady Bears.
When Idaho coach Jon Newlee and two of his senior players sat on the podium to take questions Thursday, a day before their first-round NCAA Tournament matchup against the No. 1 seed in the Dallas Regional, a nearly wall-length banner recognizing Baylor's 2005 and 2012 national championships was to their right. Straight ahead was a banner for the 2010 NCAA Final Four.
''I would say it's something surreal that we've never seen before, but my freshman year we were at UConn and we've played at Baylor here before,'' senior guard Christina Salvatore said. ''So it's not super surprising for us.''
There is also no surprise that the Lady Bears (33-1) are again starting the NCAA Tournament on their home court.
Baylor plays its NCAA opener in the Ferrell Center for the fourth year in a row after sweeping the Big 12 regular season and tournament titles for the sixth consecutive season.
''They are not in school today, so that is kind of a shock to some of them,'' Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. ''So they get the feel that it's the NCAA Tournament.''
The Lady Bears are undefeated at home this season, and have won 164 consecutive games there against unranked opponents over the past 13 years. That streak includes eight NCAA Tournament games the past five years by an average margin of 28 points, and an 88-70 regular-season victory over Idaho in December 2014.
''We've just got to stay focused and just have that mentality of win or go home,'' said senior guard Niya Johnson, the national assists leader. ''This is my last chance.''
Baylor's last loss at home to an unranked opponent was against Auburn on April 4, 2003, in the WNIT final.
Auburn (19-12) is the No. 9 seed in the Dallas Region and plays Big East tournament champion St. John's (23-9) in the other first-round game in Waco on Friday.
Baylor hasn't been to the Final Four since its 40-0 championship in 2012. The last two seasons ended with losses to Notre Dame in a regional final.
The senior class for Idaho (24-9) is making its third NCAA Tournament appearance. The Big Sky Tournament champion Vandals lost 105-37 to Connecticut in the opening round of the 2013 tournament that began the Huskies' current championship streak, and Idaho lost 88-42 to Louisville the following season.
''The building doesn't intimidate them. The banners don't intimidate them,'' Newlee said. ''They'll understand we're here to play basketball and not worry about the name on the chest or the banners up above the building.''
DROUGHT OVER: Auburn ends its longest NCAA drought with its first tournament appearance since 2009. ''It's definitely an honor for us to be able to come out here and be the face of Auburn again and do something that hasn't been done in a minute,'' senior post player Tra'cee Tanner said. ''We've worked hard for this, and we're going to take full advantage of the opportunity.'' The return to the NCAA comes in coach Terri Williams-Flournoy's fourth season.
BEYOND THE ARC: Idaho is third nationally making 3-pointers, with 10.3 per game. The Vandals made 35 3-pointers in three games last week while winning the Big Sky Conference tournament. ''They've made more 3s than I'll probably ever let my team shoot in the time I'm at Baylor,'' Mulkey said. The Vandals made 10 3s in their loss at Baylor 15 months ago.
BIG EAST TROPHY: After missing the NCAA Tournament last season, St. John's is back after winning its first Big East Conference tournament since 1988. The Red Storm overcame a double-digit deficit in the second half of the semifinal game to beat regular-season champion DePaul on its home court before beating Creighton in the championship game. ''I watched a group of young women in a matter of four days really kind of execute everything we had been trying to do throughout the year,'' coach Joe Tartamella said. ''It was just unbelievable.''
BACK TO ACTION: Baylor's opening NCAA game will come 11 days after its Big 12 tournament championship game victory. Junior post Nina Davis said the Lady Bears were clicking and in rhythm and would have liked to have just skipped straight to the NCAA Tournament. But Davis said ''rest is always good.''