By Jeffrey Swindoll
The two-seed Baylor Lady Bears are just two games away from the Final Four of the NCAA tournament in Tampa Bay, Fla. in two weeks. What stands in their way is the daunting regional tournament at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Okla.
At 6:30 p.m. today, Baylor tips off its seventh-straight Sweet 16 appearance, this time against the three-seed University of Iowa, a team the Lady Bears have never met in the regular season or postseason. Scouting and preparation will be vital for these teams that have not crossed paths until now.
“There are positive and negatives in [never playing each other],” freshman guard Kristy Wallace said. “I think that we’ve done a lot of scouting on Iowa, especially leading up to this game because we haven’t played them. I think we both kind of don’t know what to expect going out there, not playing each other before, but I think we’re really looking forward to the challenge.”
Iowa guard Samantha Logic caught head coach Kim Mulkey’s eye in the film work she and her coaching staff performed. She makes her team better and, as a former point guard, that’s exactly what you want from a point guard, Mulkey said.
“[Logic] is a triple-double waiting to happen every game,” Mulkey said. “She’s a strong player, and then I see around her players that can score, and I see a team that likes to run and get up and down the floor, and they’re averaging, what, 79.9 points a game? They are very confident at what they do offensively.”
Mulkey has said on numerous occasions the Lady Bears go as junior guard Niya Johnson goes. Tonight will be a battle of two of nation’s most valuable point guards to their teams. Johnson leads the nation in assists; Logic follows close behind at third in the country.
“We know Baylor is a really great team,” Iowa’s Melissa Dixon said. “We know the key for us is just going to be on the boards and really making sure we box out and get some offensive rebounds, so we know that’s going to be a big thing for us, just to really work on.”
The Lady Bears suffocated their opposition in the first and second round of the NCAA tournament last week. Baylor’s height and athletic superiority cleaved the opposing teams to decide on whether they should counter Baylor’s speed with their own speed, or try to slow the Lady Bears down.
Northwestern State and Arkansas both tried to slow the Lady Bears down, but Baylor’s ability to execute a half-court offense broke the team’s down in the end. Baylor’s speed may not be an issue for Iowa though.
Baylor and Iowa mirror each other in that they like playing fast. The end result of the fast-paced style is where the teams defer. Iowa likes throwing up three-pointers and it has worked for them well this season with many players, including Dixon being successful from long distance.
“We are going to try to make [Iowa] use screens more,” sophomore forward Nina Davis said. “They like to shoot. I think everybody in their starting five can shoot threes and we’re going to make them drive and get them out of their game. I think the game is going to come down to defense.”
Baylor’s style is pick up the ball and drive straight to the basket when in fast break situations. Baylor has the athleticism to punish most teams in transition, but Iowa is a decent match in that respect as well. The Lady Bears are looking forward to the challenge Iowa’s quick, energetic style.
“We’re a fast-paced team too, so we just have to make them slow it down and play defense,” sophomore post Khadijiah Cave said. “Whoever has the best defense is going to win the game, so we just have to take it one play at a time and don’t let them control the pace of the game. We have to control the pace of the game.”
The winner of tonight’s game plays the winner between one-seed Notre Dame and four-seed Stanford in the Elite Eight on Sunday which will also be played at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.