Top-ranked Lady Bears fall short of expectations
As tears streamed down the players faces when the buzzer hit zero, the Baylor Lady Bears came to the realization that their quest for a second consecutive National Title was over. With the expectations high, Baylor saw their chances dwindle with each 3-point jumper Louisville made.
“If Louisville can hit 16 threes a game, good Lord, they’ll win a national championship,” head coach Kim Mulkey said.
In the Brittney Griner era this loss in the Sweet Sixteen is the earliest Baylor exited the tournament. The Lady Bears went to the Final Four in 2010, the Elite Eight in 2011 and won the National Championship last year.
It was a heartbreaking loss for both the players and the fans because Baylor was the heavy favorite to win a National Title after being the first team in NCAA history to have a 40-0 record. Baylor had the longest winning streak in the nation at 32 games with their only regular season loss coming against Stanford in which they lost by two points. Both of Baylor’s losses have been for a combined three points, making this loss worse.
Baylor seemed like an unstoppable force due to all the talent on the team. Despite the talent fundamentals are extremely important in the tournament. A problem for Baylor this season has been free throw shooting. It had the second worst free throw shooting percent in the Big 12 as Baylor only shot 64.9 percent from the line. In close tournament games free throws are important because the competition is better.
Baylor’s perimeter defense has also been questioned because of the 3-point shots allowed. On Senior night Baylor played Kansas State and it was tight throughout the game as Wildcats scored 15 3-point shots not allowing Baylor to pull away. However, late in the second quarter Kansas State began to miss shots and Baylor turned up their defense to win the game. Also, Griner’s career high 50 points also helped lift Baylor.
Louisville most likely took notice and changed their game plan, making 16 3-point jumpers tying an NCAA record. The Cardinals continued to shoot and Baylor had no response until late in the second half when it was too late.
As much as this may scar us, this team underachieved considering the talent on this roster. Senior post Brittney Griner and junior guard Odyssey Sims were a force to be reckoned with on the floor as they dominated most basketball games with Griner protecting the paint and Sims leading the other guards to defensive mastery.
The duo were named to three All-American teams including the John R. Wooden Award All-American team, 2012-13 U.S. Basketball Writers Association Women’s All-America Team and Associated Press’ five-member All-American.
Other seniors such as senior guards Jordan Madden and Kimetria Hayden also had strong years with Madden improving on offense scoring 7.7 points per game compared to 4.3 the previous year. Madden also had the assignment of defending the best player on the opposing team and her defense along with the other guards was the reason why they had a +27.0 scoring margin.
Hayden is ranked in the top 25 in assist to turnover ratio at 2.07 while averaging 7.5 points and 3.97 rebounds per game.
The Big 12’s sixth man of the year award winner Destiny Williams accepted her role despite being a starter last year. Williams was effective coming off the bench averaging 8.2 points along with 6.6 rebounds per game.
Despite the shortcomings this season has had high points such as wins over Notre Dame and Connecticut. Griner also recorded a career high nine assists against Kansas State in the Big 12 Tournament and had her 1,000th rebound against Rice on November 2012.
In the second round of the NCAA tournament Baylor gave little doubt that they would be beat making their early exit unfathomable. Griner recorded three dunks against Florida State becoming the first woman to record three dunks in a game. Those three dunks increased her career total to 18, an NCAA record.
Griner also has an NCAA record in blocked shots at 748 surpassing Louella Tomlinson on Jan. 25 against Oklahoma. Griner finished her career at Baylor with 3,283 career points, second all-time in the NCAA.
Hayden scored her career 1,000th point against Texas on Feb. 9 and continued to move up the scoring charts with her 1,061 career points ranking No. 26 on Baylor’s career scoring list.