Hands-off Mulkey keeps No. 1 Baylor rolling

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


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.

The other Oklahoma City regional semifinal game pits No. 2 seed

Tennessee (26-7) against sixth-seeded Oklahoma (24-10).

All four teams have made it to the Final Four before, although

only Baylor has been there with its current nucleus. 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


”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.”

For everyone but Baylor, 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.

Oklahoma has been making it by without the services of

do-everything captain Whitney Hand and three others – Kaylon

Williams, Maddie Manning and Lyndsey Cloman – to season-ending


Tennessee’s injuries haven’t been quite as serious, but still

plentiful with Cierra Burdick (broken hand), Kamiko Williams (both

ankles), Andraya Carter (shoulder surgery) and Isabelle Harrison

all getting hurt. Harrison has missed time because of her right

ankle and left knee and was wearing a brace on her right knee

Saturday while she works back from her latest injury.

Sooners coach Sherri Coale described her team’s struggle through

it all as climbing a mountain, slogging through a swamp and getting

stuck in quicksand but still managing to make progress


”I always have these really smart kids. I can talk around

stuff. They’re going to know what’s happening anyway. So, we just

call spades spades,” Coale said. ”We talk about what an

accomplishment this is to be here. We let it sort of sink in. …

Just getting here is not enough. Who is to say what is enough? What

is enough is what you’re capable of. We believe we have a lot of

basketball left in us.”