By Krista Pirtle
DENVER — The Baylor Lady Bears took care of unfinished business, defeating Notre Dame 80-61 for the NCAA National Championship title Tuesday night.
“Now you can see we did something,” sophomore Odyssey Sims said.
Baylor is the first team in NCAA Division I history to finish the season with 40 wins, doing it with the top RPI in the nation.
“We finally did it,” junior Brittney Griner said. “The unfinished business is over.”
The Lady Bears become the seventh undefeated national champion, joining Texas (1986), Tennessee (1998), and UConn (1995, 2002, 2009, 2010).
“There is no significance in 40-0 right now,” head coach Kim Mulkey said. “Because the only words coming out of our mouths today are ‘national champions.’”
Griner, junior Jordan Madden and Sims never won a championship in high school.
“I’m just so happy,” Mulkey said. “That old saying, ‘you’re so happy you cry,’ I can’t quit crying.”
Now they have experienced the confetti and the ultimate climb up the ladder to snip away a piece of the net.
“It’s sinking in,” Griner said. “I know I’m about to get up there and cry.”
The All-Tournament team was made up of Notre Dame junior Skylar Diggins, Stanford senior Nneka Ogwumike and Baylor’s junior Destiny Williams and Sims.
“It’s dedication that we put in,” Williams said. “We put in a lot of work in the summer. We’re just excited to finally get the championship. We’re just ready to celebrate it and enjoy it with our families and teammates.”
The most outstanding player, Griner, led the Lady Bears with a double-double: 26 points and 13 rebounds. Sims followed with 19 points and four assists. As a whole Baylor shot 50 percent from the floor on the evening, while only allowing the Irish 35 percent.
“Our defense is what led us all year,” Williams said. “We frustrated our opponents. I think our defense is one-of-a-kind.”
Diggins led the Irish with 20 points followed by Kayla McBride with 11. Back in November, Natalie Novosel scored 28 points but tonight was held without a field goal, finishing with five points from the charity stripe.
In the first half, a Griner block sparked a 12-1 run by the Lady Bears, proving that Baylor is a team fueled by defensive play. The Irish would not score a field goal for six minutes.
Early in the first half, the Lady Bears were giving up offensive boards and second chances to the Irish. Once the offensive run started, Baylor took advantage of its height, going into the locker room at the half leading the battle of the boards 25-17 with 11 offensive rebounds and 10 second chance points.
To open both teams shot under 40 percent from the floor, with the Irish going 50 percent from three-point land.
“We were chasing,” Diggins said. “We spent a lot of energy chasing. In the second half, those shots just weren’t falling. They were hitting a lot of theirs.”
The Irish hit only 36 percent of their shots in the final half while the Lady Bears were 63 percent from the floor, a perfect 3 for 3 from downtown.
“We’re going to guard people,” Mulkey said. “Everyone talked about it being Notre Dame’s offense versus our defense. We scored 94 on them last time, we scored 80 today. We can score with the best of them. Defense wins championships. Don’t ever forget that.”
Notre Dame found itself in foul trouble when Devereaux Peters with three and Diggins with two.
“When we got in foul trouble that destroyed our game plan,” Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said. “In the second half, we were afraid to foul. Every time Brittney got the ball, we didn’t lean on her and she got really close to the basket. She shot over us. There really wasn’t anything we can do.”
Griner only missed one shot out of nine attempts in the final half for the Lady Bears.
For Baylor, all the starters will return for the 2012-2013 season.
The Lady Bears’ senior class of Terran Condrey, Lindsay Palmer and Ashley Field finished their four-year careers with a record of 131-19 in addition to one national title, two Final Four appearances, four NCAA tournament trips and five Big 12 titles (two regular season, three tournament).
As for scrubby little Baylor, it has the most wins combined in football (10), men’s basketball (30) and women’s basketball (40) in NCAA Division I this season.
“At Baylor they used to not let the Baptists dance,” Mulkey said. “I bet they’re dancing now. It’s fun. Look, it’s been a great year for Baylor. Robert Griffin being here. I don’t know what other coaches from Baylor were here. It’s just a fun time. I look forward to going back. Let’s enjoy it. This is a memory. This is for Baylor.”