If Kim Mulkey doesn’t like how Baylor is playing in its first-round NCAA Tournament game, the Lady Bears coach might head out the back door and pull weeds.
Mulkey will be at her house Saturday instead of on the sideline at the Ferrell Center. She will serve a one-game NCAA suspension for criticizing the officiating after the then-defending national champion Lady Bears’ upset loss to Louisville in a very physical Sweet Sixteen game last March.
“I’m suspended, I don’t regret being suspended. I’m going to fight for my team, and that’s why I’m suspended,” said Mulkey, strongly adding that she would prefer the focus being on the game and players instead of her absence.
Big 12 champion Baylor (29-4), a No. 2 seed and hosting NCAA Tournament games for the third time in four years, plays Sun Belt Conference winner Western Kentucky (24-8).
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The other first-round Notre Dame Region game at Waco (3 p.m.) has No. 7 seed California (21-9), a Final Four team last season, taking on Fordham (25-7). The Atlantic 10 champ Rams are in their first NCAA Tournament in 20 years, and only six years removed from an 0-29 season.
Baylor senior guard Odyssey Sims, the nation’s second-leading scorer at 28.4 points per game, knows it will be different without Mulkey.
“We’ll need to step up a lot more, do whatever we’ve done before,” Sims said. “I think we’ll handle it just fine.”
Mulkey took part in all practices leading up to the game, but plans to be in front of the TV on Saturday.
“I’m not nervous about it, I’m not uptight about it,” said Mulkey, who could go into her yard if things get uneasy. “I’m very confident in everybody that will be in that locker room and everybody on that floor.”
Mulkey also missed the 2009 NCAA opener after surgery to remove a kidney stone. Then-associate coach Leon Barmore was in charge for an overtime victory over No. 15 seed UT San Antonio.
“The first time I missed … I was sick, so I was pretty medicated,” she said. “It wasn’t a big deal.”
Associate head coach Bill Brock, in his 11th season over two stints on Mulkey’s staff, fills in Saturday.
“Coach Brock is probably not quite as,” senior guard Makenzie Robertson said, pausing to glance at Mulkey on her left before continuing, “as crazy as my mom. But he has the intensity and competitiveness, and he knows how to reach out to us as players.”