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
”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
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
”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.”