INDIANAPOLIS – When Baylor started practice in October, coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson took one moment to remind her players about their 2004 NCAA women’s basketball tournament loss to Tennessee.
She never mentioned it again.
“No one who was in that game will ever forget it, so it should motivate you,” she said after the Bears reached today’s national championship game.
After their 68-57 semifinal victory over LSU, Mulkey-Robertson and her players sounded as if they almost had to convince themselves they weren’t dreaming. They face Michigan State, another first-time finalist, in tonight’s title game.
A year ago, it was a different story. The Bears’ anticipated tournament run stalled in the second round when they were called for a foul with 0.2 seconds left, and Tennessee made two free throws to escape with a 71-69 win.
But the Baylor players now credit that loss as the catalyst for this season’s remarkable run. Guard Chameka Scott said her teammates realized how close they were to being a national contender and spent the summer working to correct their flaws.
The more important lesson was one that was lost on LSU and Tennessee, which both blew double-digit leads Sunday night – closing out games.
“We found ourselves in a lot of close games last year, that we didn’t finish, and we had to find out why,” Scott said Monday. “We know we have to get the ball in the post because it’s no secret that’s our strength.”
The Bears (32-3) responded by winning 27 games by 10 or more points, including Sunday night’s semifinal game. They take a school record 19-game winning streak, the nation’s longest, into today’s title game.
Michigan State brings in a 33-3 record.