By Krista Pirtle
Junior Nae Nae Hayden flashed through the paint and grabbed the offensive board for the No. 1 Baylor Lady Bears.
She dribbled out to the short corner nearest the Baylor bench and passed the rock to junior Brittney Griner.
Showing off her fancy footwork, Griner drop-stepped and slammed it home with her right hand.
“I didn’t see it coming,” Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey said. “When she went up I thought, ‘She’s fixing to throw this down.’ Everybody got excited.”
After the monstrous throwdown, Griner simply ran back down the floor to play defense.
“I said, `Honey, if I could dunk it, I’d do backflips down the floor,’” Mulkey said.
That businesslike attitude is something the Lady Bears have taken from the regular season into the post-season, celebrating wins but knowing they have accomplished nothing until they are national champions.
“I think that we’ve maintained our focus and that we have approached each game with a businesslike attitude,” Mulkey said. “Nothing has really changed. You enjoy seeing your team not change their approach, not feel any pressure, and not play not hard. They go out there and do what they’ve been doing.”
The Lady Bears have been playing at a high level for 36 games already.
“You’ve got to take care of your body,” sophomore Odyssey Sims said. “You’ve got to drink a lot of fluid and get your rest. We know our bodies are tired, but we can’t physically be tired. We have to tell it, ‘C’mon, we can do it.’”
A bracelet with the words “unfinished business” is reminder enough to finish strong.
Plus, the madness that comes with March adds intensity to the increasingly fewer teams that remain.
“As you keep going and winning each game, the intensity just goes up more and more because you know you’re that much closer,” Griner said. “No one wants their season to be over.”
Four games stand between Baylor and the title.
At 1:30 p.m. Saturday in Des Moines, the Lady Bears take the court again against No. 4 seed Georgia Tech.
Senior Shasha Goodlett, 6-foot-5 center, leads Georgia Tech in both scoring and rebounding with 14.6 points and 7.7 rebounds.
She had a double double in the win over Georgetown, but freshman guard Sydney Wallace led the Yellowjackets with 23 points.
“They’re on a mission like we are,” Mulkey said. “They don’t expect to lose. They press you. Georgia Tech is going to press you in every zone imaginable, and they’re going to do it the whole game. They have a big girl inside. They are athletic. They mix their defenses up and they’ll bang with you.”
This is the first time the Yellowjackets have reached the Sweet 16.
As for Baylor, this is the fourth straight appearance in the Sweet 16 for the Lady Bears, something that merits a ‘job well done’ but emphasizes that three victories remain between the Lady Bears and their ultimate prize.
Maybe then Mulkey will finally do backflips down the court.