Great expectations: Lady Bears begin NCAA campaign against Idaho, eye Final Four

Baylor plays Texas Photo credit: Trey Honeycutt

The No. 1 seed Lady Bears open the NCAA tournament at 4 p.m today against No. 16 seed Idaho at the Ferrell Center.

Baylor players recalled their past two tournament appearances, which ended both times in the Elite Eight.

“I’m more driven than anybody, just hitting that road block against Notre Dame constantly. It gets tiring,” said senior guard Niya Johnson. “I’m just trying to get to a Final Four this year.”

Johnson has helped lead the Lady Bears to back-to-back Big 12 titles and Phillips 66 Big 12 Women’s Basketball Championship.

Leading the nation with 8.7 assists per game and a total of 286, Johnson will need to continue in her ways if the Lady Bears want a chance to claim a national championship.

After making it to the NCAA Elite Eight for the past three years, the Lady Bears (33-1) look to finally overcome that hurdle and make it to a Final Four.

“This time of year, there are no bad teams. I don’t even know how the committee can rank and select who get what seed because it’s a difficult task, but it’s a reward for team, but also for our fans,” said head coach Kim Mulkey. “When you can host the first two games here, and if you should win those and get to go to Dallas, it’s a perfect setup. It doesn’t guarantee any wins, but it’s certainly good for our fans.”

In order to have a chance at making a Final Four run, the Lady Bears will have to get through the Vandals (24-9), who are advancing to their third NCAA tournament appearance in four years.

The Lady Bears played the Vandals last season at the Ferrell Center and were able to come through with a 88-70 win.

“We played them a few years ago,” Mulkey said. “I can bet you without having seen them play this year that they can all shoot the three ball, so here we go again going up against another team that can shoot the three ball.”

After defeating Idaho State, 67-55 in the Big Sky Tournament, the Vandals are in a position to possibly shake up the tournament early, but will first have to get passed by junior forward Nina Davis who leads the Lady Bears with 15.6 points per game.

As she has all year, Mulkey stressed the importance of keeping the Lady Bears’ minds on the present game, because as Davis knows, anything can happen.

“Whether a team is a 16 seed or a 1 seed like us . . . crazy things happen, upsets happen all the time in March Madness,” Davis said. “So, we can’t take any team lightly.”

If they win today, the Lady Bears next test will come at home on Sunday against either No. 8 seed St. John’s (23-9) or No. 9 seed Auburn (19-12).

“Last year, I went to the Final Four and my teammates weren’t there,” Davis said. “I was able to see the atmosphere, the cameras, the fans. It was just a crazy atmosphere. I want to be able to experience that with my team.”