Defending champion Lady Bears gear up for March Madness as No. 2 seed

Graphic by Cole Tompkins | Photographer

By Harper Mayfield | Sports Writer

For the past several years, Baylor women’s basketball has had the good fortune of being a one seed, giving them what is supposed to be the easiest road to a national title. This year, the Lady Bears find themselves on the two line, second in their region only to Connecticut.

Baylor and UConn, both traditional powerhouses, will headline the River Walk Region, one of four regions based on various San Antonio landmarks, as the entire tournament will be held in the San Antonio area. Between the two of them, the Lady Bears and Huskies have won nine of the last 15 national titles, making the River Walk section of the bracket one of the strongest in recent memory.

The other four regions of the bracket are no slouches. The Alamo Region is headlined by No. 1 seed Stanford and No. 2 seed Louisville, both perennial contenders. The top two in the Hemisfair Region are South Carolina and Maryland, respectively. Finally, the Mercado Region is topped by North Carolina State and Texas A&M. Each of these programs has had it’s day in the sun, but it’s been a while since the NC State Wolfpack has seen the Final Four. Should they advance that far this season, it would be the first time the team has done so since 1998.

While every NCAA tournament is special, this one holds even more meaning in the wake of the canceled 2019 tournament.

“It was really exciting getting to experience this moment again with my teammates since my freshman year,” junior center Queen Egbo said. “Missing out on that opportunity last year really hit home, so it’s just encouraging knowing that we’ll be in the tournament again, and we have another shot at it.”

As with so many things this year, the tournament is going to look different as a result of COVID-19. Head coach Kim Mulkey is well aware of the changes, but that doesn’t make them feel any less strange.

“I get a headache thinking about [how] we’re getting ready to be in a bubble for I don’t know how many days,” Mulkey said. “You don’t know how long you’re going to be there, and when you’re there, you’re not coming home to regroup and go back. You’re there until you lose out.”

The tournament being in Texas has a number of benefits for Baylor, and Mulkey believes it has benefits for the sport as a whole, too.

“Staying home in Texas is a good thing,” Mulkey said. “It’s good for the state. It’s good for women’s basketball in our state. You just wish there was not a limit on the number of people who could see it. We went to San Antonio in 2010. That was Britney Griner and that group’s freshman year. We actually lost in the semifinals to UConn, who had Tina Charles and that crew … It’s certainly going to be different this year.”

The first round for Baylor will be a matchup with No. 15 seed Jackson State, a school Mulkey competed against as a player. The Tigers are one of the SWAC’s best teams and will look to take their best shot at the Lady Bears on Sunday at 4 p.m. The game will air on ABC. Should Baylor win, the Lady Bears will take on the winner of the game between Virginia Tech and Marquette.