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By Will Parchman
Waco Tribune-Herald via Associated Press
While the rest of the country stresses its NCAA tournament plans on Selection Monday, the Lady Bears plan to sit back and enjoy themselves.
Sure, there are a few teams in the field that have a good idea where they’ll go. Notre Dame, UConn and Stanford can reasonably expect No. 1 seeds and subregional tournaments closer to home. Dozens more teams know they’ll be in the field, awaiting seeds and confirmation they beat the bubble.
Baylor, on the other hand, is a lock for the No. 1 overall seed. The Lady Bears have been the nation’s top-ranked team for 10 consecutive weeks, which will win them a relatively easy geographic path to the Final Four. It likely means hosting two rounds in Waco and two more in Oklahoma City before a possible trip to New Orleans.
The Lady Bears host a Selection Monday watch party beginning at 5:30 p.m. at the Ferrell Center’s Stone Room on Monday. The selection show begins at 6 on ESPN and will unveil the entire 64-team bracket. That includes the Nos. 8, 9 and 16 seeds that join Baylor in Waco.
Like most of Baylor’s games this season, the event will likely have an anticlimactic air. And that’s just fine with the Lady Bears.
“I think it probably lets us really observe more of the crowd and enjoy and laugh and have a good time,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. “This whole year has kind of been like that. If we don’t win it, it won’t be because we’re stressed. It won’t be because we feel pressure. The pressure was last year. This is nothing more than icing on the cake. Because if somebody beats us, it’s going to be someone that deserves it.”
And as far as travel is concerned, Baylor’s road couldn’t be much better. Baylor drew an average of 7,734 fans at the American Airlines Center during the Big 12 tournament, and Oklahoma City isn’t much further up I-35. In addition, Baylor is far closer to New Orleans than any team in the top five.
“I hope what we saw in Dallas with the Baylor fans, I hope they’ll drive another couple hours to Oklahoma City,” Mulkey said. “It was impressive for Baylor people to be there in that big a number.”
In November, Baylor lost to Stanford in Hawaii, 71-69, for the Lady Bears’ first loss in 42 games. At that point, Baylor’s reign atop the women’s college basketball world looked very much in doubt. In response, Baylor rattled off 30 straight wins, only two of which were decided by fewer than 10 points. Within that run, the Lady Bears collected two more Big 12 title trophies, bringing that total to six over the past three seasons.
The Lady Bears’ No. 1 RPI was boosted by wins over four teams that finished the regular season ranked in the top 10, and a further three wins over Iowa State, which is ranked No. 23.
So while dozens of Division I programs bite through their nails Monday, Baylor will enjoy itself.
“It’s good bonding for us,” Baylor senior guard Jordan Madden said. “Just to sit there and be with the coaches. We get to be with them but not as long. So we can sit there and have a conversation and see the other teams and where they go. Just be out there and have fun.”