WACO, Texas (AP) Baylor is starting the NCAA Tournament at home again, and the Lady Bears wouldn’t have to travel too far to get to the Final Four – if they can get through Oklahoma City.
After winning its seventh consecutive Big 12 regular season title, Baylor (30-3) is the No. 1 seed in the Oklahoma City Regional.
”We’re familiar with Oklahoma City. We’ve had wonderful play there, and not so wonderful play. Hopefully we get there,” coach Kim Mulkey said after the 64-team NCAA field was revealed Monday night. ”It’s a very, very tough regional we were put in.”
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SEC runner-up Mississippi State (29-4) is the No. 2 seed in the region, and will also play its NCAA opener at home, as will No. 3 seed Washington (27-3) and No. 4 seed Louisville (27-7). Tennessee (19-11), which has been in all 36 NCAA Tournaments, is the No. 5 seed.
The Final Four will be played in Dallas, about 100 miles from the Baylor campus at the home of the NBA’s Mavericks, where the Lady Bears lost last season in the Elite Eight.
If the Lady Bears win their first two games at home – against Texas Southern on Saturday, and then either LSU or California – they would then go to Oklahoma City to the home of the NBA’s Thunder, where last week they lost in the Big 12 Tournament final.
Baylor had won two Big 12 Tournaments there the previous three years, but that is also where they were knocked out of the NCAA Tournaments in 2013 and 2015.
”It really didn’t matter to us where we went,” senior Nina Davis said. ”We’ve been in Oklahoma City for a lot of different things, but we’re really not focused on wherever we play.”
Baylor, a No. 1 seed for the fifth time in seven years, has won its last 10 NCAA Tournament games in the Ferrell Center, by an average margin of 29.4 points.
Some other things about the Oklahoma City Regional:
TOP OF THE CHARTS: Washington, an at-large pick from the Pac-12, has NCAA career scoring leader Kelsey Plum, who passed Jackie Stiles’ record when she scored 57 points in the regular-season home finale for the Huskies. Plum is the nation’s leading scorer at 31.7 points per game, while teammate Chantel Osahor is the top rebounder at 15.3 per game. The Huskies play Montana State (25-6) in their opener.
SEE YOU AGAIN? Louisville made it to national title games in 2009 and 2013, losing to UConn both times. In both of those years, the Cardinals beat Baylor in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, including an overly-physical matchup at Oklahoma City in Brittney Griner’s last game with the Lady Bears four years ago. Louisville starts at home this year against Chattanooga (21-10), and could see Baylor in another Sweet 16.
WORKING HARD: Tennessee coach Holly Warlick has worked her team harder than usual in practice between the end of the SEC Tournament and the start of the NCAA Tournament. ”I just didn’t like how we ended in the SEC Tournament, just thought we needed a change,” she said. The Lady Vols didn’t win a game in the SEC Tournament for the first time in 24 years after losing to Alabama. Tennessee is headed to Louisville play Dayton (22-9).
STAYING IN STARKVEGAS: Mississippi State is starting the NCAA Tournament at home for the second year in a row, and will host No. 15 seed Troy in the opening round. The No. 2 seed is the highest ever for coach Vic Schaefer’s Bulldogs (29-4), who have already set a school record for wins for the third year in a row.
OTHER FIRST-ROUND GAMES: No. 8 seed LSU (20-11) vs. No. 9 seed California (19-13) in Waco, Texas; No. 6 seed Oklahoma (22-9) vs. Gonzaga (26-6) in Seattle; No. 7 seed DePaul (26-7) against Northern Iowa (24-8) in Starkville, Mississippi.
A DIFFERENT SPORT: Asked about Baylor’s potential second-round opponent, LSU or California, Mulkey responded that she knows the Tigers baseball team has a good shortstop. ”I can give you a really good scouting report on him,” Mulkey said of her son Kramer Roberson, a senior hitting .379 for the Tigers.
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