On April 3, head coach Kim Mulkey's Lady Bears defeated Notre Dame to win the 2012 NCAA championship. The next day, about 5,000 Lady Bear fans welcomed the team home with a celebration at the Ferrell Center; here's what Mulkey had to say to those gathered.
A year ago, we left Dallas, Texas, and on that bus ride home, I had a pretty devastated bunch. I won't ever forget it; Brittney Griner was the first one to text me -- from the back of the bus to the front of the bus -- and she said, "Coach, we won't ever let you down again."
At that moment, our basketball team could've gone one of two directions.
The NCAA won't allow me to be around the team in the summer, so they stayed here during the summer with Jeremy Heffner, our strength and conditioning coach. And they made a decision. "We didn't like how that felt. We're too good to feel like that."
In the fall, when I could have our first team meeting with them, we sat in the locker room with our notebooks in hand, and we gave out wristbands and wrote the motto on the board: "Unfinished Business."
And as I looked around that room, I handed out 5x7 note cards. I asked every one of them to put their name on it, write down one reason they thought we lost in the regional finals in Dallas, and turn them in to me. And they did. Overwhelmingly, they said, "team chemistry." While we were so talented, we were still young, and overwhelmingly they all said, "Coach, it was team chemistry."
So this past summer they fixed that. I didn't fix that. They had to fix that. There's a ropes course here in Waco that they participated in, and all they could laugh and talk about was helping our freshman, Sune Agbuke, get over the wall. And while I laughed like you just did, I realized, "They mean business."
So as we approached the season, I was asked to do a pregame video. That's not my personality; I like to play the underdog role. I like to sneak in the back door, beat you and leave the arena. But we couldn't hide how talented we were. We knew expectations would be placed upon us by the media and even by fans. So we embraced it, and I felt that because we were a year older, because we had been through the experiences of a devastating loss and some outstanding wins their freshman year, it was time to embrace it.
Little did I know at the time that we would go 40-0. No one can ever place those kind of expectations on a basketball team; it's not fair. But what I did place upon them was a national championship. And I also challenged them to not have any issues off the floor. That's a sign of growing up and being mature, of accepting and becoming accountable for what your responsibility is. And each of them did that this year.
We hear about Brittney Griner, and we should; she is the face of women's basketball, not just here but across the country. Odyssey Sims, I think, proved she's the best point guard in the country. But those two players didn't win the national championship, and every one of them behind me can tell you what I said in the locker room in January. The only way we win the national championship is for Nae-Nae Hayden and Jordan Madden to go win it for us. What I mean by that is -- and you listen -- Destiny Williams plays the whole season with double-doubles. The game is over; the kid has killed the opponent with double-figure scoring and double-figure rebounding. She never once asks for anything; she goes and she does her job every night.
We had to have a defensive stopper. Jordan Madden was given that responsibility. As a freshman, she was reluctant. "I don't want that, Coach; I'm not sure I can handle that." But Jordan Madden grew into that player for us. She only stopped [Notre Dame All-American Natalie] Novosel in the last game and held her to 0-for-11 from the field. I told Jordan Madden in one of the games, "Just guard 'em all, Jordan. Just guard 'em all out there."
Nae-Nae Hayden had to accept the need to stay under control. When she got here as a freshman, that ball might have landed in the sixth row up in the stands. But Nae-Nae Hayden could play the backup for you, she could hit big threes. She got a huge offensive board and gave the ball to Destiny for a bucket last night. Nae-Nae Hayden had a role to play for us to win.
The bench last night... Terran Condrey and Brooklyn Pope, hands down, were the best players coming off the bench of any team. And I can't mention them all, but I mentioned the ones who got the most minutes. You do not win championships with one player. You do not win championships with two players. You do not win championships unless you have five, six, seven, eight people heading in the same direction who understand their jobs, understand their roles.
I told them in the locker room after the game -- many hours after the game, when we were still there -- "Every one of you could go to another university, play 40 minutes a game and average double figures. But what you would've never gotten is this trophy."
There's not a player on this team that didn't have a role to play. They accepted it, they embraced it, and they weren't afraid of it. We were not afraid to have expectations placed upon us.
And I'll tell you this -- you'd better get your tickets to New Orleans. See you next year.
Head coach Kim Mulkey's Lady Bears didn't just win the national championship this spring; they did it in style, becoming the first team in NCAA basketball history -- men's or women's -- to win 40 games, finishing the year with a perfect 40-0 record.
Their perfect season put them in elite company, becoming just the 14th NCAA basketball team of either gender to finish the season undefeated*. But the Lady Bears did it in a fashion few, if any, of those other squads can match.
First, Baylor had to put its season on the line 40 times. Past teams played shorter schedules than teams today; the 1955-56 San Francisco men, for instance, only played 29 games in their perfect season. Only one other school, UConn, has ever won as many as 35 games in an undefeated year.
The Lady Bears not only played more games than any other top team; they also faced more top competition than almost any other comparable squad. Baylor played and beat four top-5 teams in 2011-12, including three meetings against the team ranked No. 2 in the country. Only one NCAA team (1998 Tennessee) has ever played more elite opponents and remained undefeated.
And Mulkey's team did it all with a target on its back. Baylor was ranked No. 1 in the country in both polls before ever setting foot on the court last fall, and they held onto that ranking all year.
Finally, they did it with defense. Only three other squads in NCAA history can match the 2011-12 Lady Bears' numbers listed above (undefeated over 35+ games, 4+ wins vs. top-5 teams, ranked No. 1 all year): 1997-98 Tennessee, 2001-02 UConn and 2008-09 UConn. But none of those teams could match Baylor on defense, as the Lady Bears' opponents made just 31 percent of their shots this year, third-best in NCAA history.
Deciding the very best team in any sport's history is clearly a subjective discussion, but this much is clear: The 2011-12 Baylor Lady Bears belong in the discussion of women's basketball's best, and they arrived there like no other team in history.
* NCAA history includes 14 undefeated seasons, seven from men's teams (1955-56 San Francisco, 1956-57 North Carolina, 1963-64 UCLA, 1966-67 UCLA, 1971-72 UCLA, 1972-73 UCLA, 1975-76 Indiana) and seven from women's teams (1985-86 Texas, 1994-95 UConn, 1997-98 Tennessee, 2001-02 UConn, 2008-09 UConn, 2010-11 UConn, 2011-12 Baylor). A 15th team, the 1980-81 Louisiana Tech Lady Techsters that included a freshman named Kim Mulkey coming off the bench, went 34-0 in the final year before the NCAA added women's basketball.