Stanford-Baylor Preview

An hour after losing in last season’s regional finals, Brittney

Griner sent Baylor coach Kim Mulkey a text.

The message was simple: the 6-foot-8 junior phenom took

responsibility for the loss and said it wouldn’t happen again.

So far Griner has fulfilled her promise, helping Baylor to an

undefeated season and has the team two victories away from the

first 40-win season in NCAA history.

”She was the only kid that texted me within an hour of the

loss,” Mulkey said. ”She said she was sorry that she didn’t

deliver. When you have a kid as talented as she is, you knew she

was going to come back an even better player. She’s stronger, she’s

forceful. She’s dominant.”

Standing in the way of a second national championship for Baylor

(38-0) are Stanford and the Ogwumike sisters. The Cardinal (35-1)

are making their fifth straight trip to the Final Four and are

hoping to win their first title in 20 years.

While Stanford and Baylor haven’t played each other in four

seasons, the other semifinal game features two teams who know each

other inside and out. Notre Dame and Connecticut are facing each

other for the eighth time in the past 14 months.

”I’d much rather play teams you don’t know so much about,”

Mulkey said. ”I don’t think we played Stanford since Nneka is a

freshman. Have to make sure I’m not overmedicated and forgotten

something. We are familiar with Stanford.”

These two teams haven’t played since 2008 – the year before

Griner showed up, but Nnemkadi Ogwumike is eager for the chance.

Ogwumike faced Griner in an AAU game back in high school, and

that’s when she insists she learned to shoot 3-pointers because

scoring in the paint was a big problem. But the senior feels like

everybody else in the country has already faced Griner, and now

she’s finally getting that chance in her NCAA tournament

farewell.

”I’m very excited to finally get a chance to play against

her,” Nnemkadi Ogwumike said. ”I feel like I’m the only person

who hasn’t played against her, it’s a big challenge. I’m never one

person to win easy. For us to come out and do what we need to do to

win this game would be a really great accomplishment for us.”

Mulkey was dismissing her bout with Bell’s palsy as more of an

inconvenience than anything else. She announced Thursday that she

was suffering from the disorder of the nerve.

”Don’t ask me to smile,” Mulkey said. ”I think the distortion

of the face is mild compared to cases I’ve seen before. The biggest

problem I’ve had is my eyes, the light, the tears and dryness is

all a part of it. The distortion, I’m just another ugly coach

anyway. I’m not vain so it doesn’t matter.”

Baylor has been focused with the mantra of ”Unfinished

Business” all season long. Every player on the team is wearing a

wristband with the two words on it. Mulkey said the team used the

same motto the year it won its only title in 2005. The Lady Bears

had been knocked out the year before on a tough last-second

lost.

They want a national championship, and until they get it, I just

feel like they feel it’s unfinished business,” Mulkey said. ”Now,

I know this, that if we go out on that floor and somebody beats us,

I believe in my whole heart that we will be OK, because they’re

going to have to play well. They’re going to have to play well and

how can you be disappointed if somebody just plays better than you

and you played just about as well as you could play? And that’s how

we’re going to approach it.”

Stanford could easily claim that motto for itself, having

matched UConn and LSU with its five-year Final Four run. But

Ogwumike says the Cardinal don’t use that for extra motivation.

”I can honestly say that it hasn’t been a focus of our team,”

she said. ”I think more so last year than it was this year at all.

It was devastating when we lost last year. This year it’s a new

team, a fresh team. They understand what hard work really takes to

get here. No one pays attention to us.”

It’s hard to ignore Stanford, which has won a school-record 32

straight games. The Cardinal’s only loss this season came at

Connecticut in early November. Still few people are giving the

Cardinal much of a chance to win seeing them as a heavier

underdog.

”I don’t think we go into many games where we’re not expected

to win,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. ”This game, there

might not be anyone in this room besides me that thinks we are

going to win.”

Playing the underdog role doesn’t bother Ogwumike.

”I’m here having fun with my team, I’m excited, ready to play,

not just going to give on Sunday,” she said. ”I’ll give it all I

got especially because I’m a senior, it’s my last hurrah you got to

go out with a bang.”