Baylor left Oklahoma City two weeks ago after a rare loss in the Big 12 Tournament. Two years ago, their season ended after losing an NCAA Elite Eight game in the same building.
The Lady Bears, 32-3 and the top seed in the Oklahoma City Regional, are now headed back to the same arena less than 300 miles from their Waco campus to play Louisville (29-7) in an NCAA Sweet 16 rematch Friday night.
“We’ve shed plenty of tears there, but we’ve also celebrated in confetti there,” senior forward Nina Davis said. “We’re not really worried about the location where we’re playing at. We’re just worried about our next opponent, which is Louisville.”
Third-seeded Louisville is in the Sweet 16 for the seventh time, the third against the Lady Bears. The Cardinals beat Baylor in 2009 and 2013 on way to being national runner-ups to UConn.
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“They have great players, we have great players. They’re well-coached. I don’t know if we are or not, but we'll see. But we'll compete,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. “I think we have a size advantage, but really what does that mean at this level? If you can play, you can play.”
Baylor is trying to get to its first Final Four since a 40-0 national championship in 2012. With two wins this weekend, they would only have to go about 100 miles from their campus to Dallas for the Final Four.
Baylor won its NCAA opener 119-30 over Texas Southern last Saturday at home, setting NCAA Tournament records for the largest margin of victory and the most points ever scored in a regulation game. That was followed by an 86-46 win over California.
“I thought our depth has surfaced big time in these two playoff games. We knew we had depth. We’ve seen it all year,” Mulkey said. “But you don’t know how they’re going to produce in the NCAA Tournament.”
Six players are averaging double-figure scoring in the NCAA Tournament, and a seventh has 9.0 points a game – all without having to play too many minutes. All 12 players that got into the first two NCAA games recorded points, rebounds and assists.
Baylor’s three post players that are at least 6-foot-4 – sophomores Kalani Brown and Beatrice Mompremier, and freshman Lauren Cox – combined for 82 points and 43 rebounds in just 109 minutes of play.
“Our size is young, and I think people tend to forget that,” Mulkey said. “I just think the more they can get NCAA experience, the better they get. And then maybe someday they'll win them a national championship here.”
Baylor guard Alexis Jones, who missed a month with a knee injury, is back for the NCAA Tournament. She played 12 minutes in her first game back against Texas Southern and scored five points. In her second game, she played 22 minutes and had eight points, six rebounds and five assists in a win over California.
“She looked good to me,” Mulkey said. “She missed some shots. I don’t know if that had anything to do with her being off for a month, but she just gives us a sense of security.”
Mulkey was asked what stands out most about Louisville’s Asia Durr, a sophomore guard who averages 19.4 points and has made 114 3-pointers this season.
“That I recruited her and didn’t get her,” Mulkey said with a laugh.
The coach then elaborated.
“She’s a phenomenal player,” Mulkey said. “She can score from the perimeter. She can take you off the dribble. She was not healthy last year. Now she’s healthy, and you’re seeing the real Asia Durr, and she’s just a handful to guard. They do a lot of things with her and through her. She is the catalyst that makes them go.”
The early game
Friday’s early game in the Oklahoma Regional features Mississippi State playing Washington, which is led by Kelsey Plum, the nation’s leading scorer – man or woman – at 31.8 points per game.
Earlier this season, Plum broke the NCAA women’s career and single-season scoring records previously held by Jackie Stiles. Plum has averaged at least 20 points a game in each of her four seasons and scored 57 in a game last month.
NCAA women’s Sweet 16
Baylor vs. Louisville
8:30 p.m. Friday, ESPN2