By Jeffrey Swindoll
The No. 5 ranked Lady Bears’ surprising success in the 2014-15 season earned Baylor a two-seed in the NCAA tournament and the job of hosting games of the first and second round of the tournament. Baylor earned itself an opening-round matchup against Northwestern State.
Seven-seed Northwestern University and 10-seed Arkansas will also play in the opening rounds hosted in Waco. The two face off at 12:30 p.m. on Friday.
“It’s an exciting time of year and we’re playing really, really good,” head coach Kim Mulkey said. “It’s good to play at home and host. I know that we are responsible for that as players and the program. They don’t just hand it out. A lot of it is the fans.”
The Lady Bears are included in the Oklahoma City region of the bracket.
“We’re familiar with Oklahoma City and it’s easy for the fans to drive, but we’ve got to get there,” Mulkey said. “We’ve got to focus on Northwestern State first.”
The Lady Bears capped off a dominant season in the Big 12, winning their fifth-straight Big 12 Tournament title last week. Baylor ousted its enduring rival school, University of Texas, in the tournament final, winning 75-64.
Mulkey’s roster is at full strength ahead of March Madness – no outstanding injuries, a versatile roster and many players contributing. Mulkey sees her team in prime form for a deep run in the tournament.
Oklahoma City is place of dear and not-so-dear memories for the Lady Bears. Specifically in NCAA play, Oklahoma City was the venue for a Baylor nightmare two years ago. Full of controversy and flat-out disappointment, the Lady Bears, reigning national champions at the time, bowed out of the tournament much earlier than expected and lost to Louisville in Oklahoma City. Brittney Griner ended her career as a Lady Bear that night and Kim Mulkey was suspended for post-game comments directed at the officiating.
“I think we got a lot of that revenge out last year when we got to win the Big 12 Tournament [in Oklahoma City],” senior post Sune Agbuke said. “We don’t really have those bad feelings anymore. [The Louisville game] will always be hard for us to think about, but, the place, that’s fine. No big deal.”
Last season, the Lady Bears found success in the exact same venue, the Chesapeake Energy Arena, winning the Big 12 tournament in thrilling fashion over West Virginia in overtime. This tournament may be a chance for Mulkey to exorcise the demons from the 2013 tournament.
Notre Dame received the one-seed in the Oklahoma City region. The Fighting Irish eliminated the Lady Bears last season in the Elite Eight in South Bend, Ind.
Other one-seeds include Connecticut, Maryland and South Carolina. Stanford and Oklahoma are other top teams in BU’s bracket.
Sophomore forward Nina Davis, Big 12 player of the year and Big 12 tournament MVP, said last season’s game against Notre Dame was one of, if not, the loudest atmosphere she has ever played in. She looks forward to possibly matching up against the team at a truly neutral location.
Baylor opens the tournament against the 15-seed Northwestern State at 2:30 p.m. Friday. Should the Lady Bears beat Northwestern State in the first round, they play their final game in their home arena at 1:30 p.m. Sunday at the Ferrell Center.