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FAST TRACK TO NO. 400: Mulkey Gets Milestone Win, Lady Bears Reach Final

March 10, 2014

By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. - As the final seconds ticked off the clock in Sunday's hard-fought 65-61 victory over 18th-ranked Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Championship semifinals, the Lady Bear players hurriedly put on T-shirts with the not-so-subtle reminder: 400.

That's the number of wins that Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey has racked up in 14 seasons at the helm, getting there faster than Geno Auriemma, Pat Summitt and everybody else . . . other than her own mentor, coaching legend Leon Barmore.

"You don't think about that," said Mulkey, whose ninth-ranked Lady Bears (28-4) reached the Big 12 tournament finals for the fourth year in a row and the eighth time overall. "You're thinking, 'How can I win the conference tournament?' And then you're thinking, 'How far can I go in the NCAA Tournament.' . . . When I'm in my rocking chair, and hopefully grandbabies crawling all over me, I can pull out some clippings and I can say, 'See, I really did used to coach.'''

Of her 399 previous victories, few were any tougher than this one. Even on another off shooting night for senior All-American guard Odyssey Sims, the Lady Bears found a way to just grind out another win.

"It's a grind out there," said Mulkey, referring to the Big 12 Conference's double round-robin schedule in basketball. "And to come out here and have to do it a conference tournament again, it's just a grind. And it may not look very good. I don't imagine that game was very enjoyable to watch on TV. There was a lot of stoppage, a lot of fouling, a lot of all that going on. But teams are battling and just trying to win. It was just that kind of game."

It's the kind of game where Nina Davis seems to thrive. After a slow start, the Lady Bears' 5-11 freshman forward posted her 11th double-double of the season with 18 points and 12 rebounds.

"She's just one of those players that when the game is over, you don't realize she had another double-double," Mulkey said. "She just does her job."

Hounded by a defense that sent fresh players at her all day, Sims continued to struggle on the offensive end. She had 17 points on 6-of-22 shooting from the field and is just 1-of-18 from outside the 3-point arc in the last four games.

"I thought we did a nice job on Odyssey," said OSU head coach Jim Littell, whose Cowgirls fell to 23-8, with three of those losses coming to Baylor. "If somebody would have told me we held her to 17 going in, I would have taken that."

OSU's struggles was containing all of Baylor's other weapons. Makenzie Robertson buried three 3-pointers and scored 13 points to go with eight rebounds and three assists, while sophomore guard Niya Johnson matched her career-high with 10 points on 5-of-12 shooting.

"The second part of the triangle-and-two (defense) was we were not to lose Robertson," Littell said, "and we lost her about three or four times, and she hit shots out of the corner. We just didn't stay locked in on her the way we ought to. But if we would have done that, I feel like we would have won the game."

And none of Robertson's 3-pointers were any bigger than the offensive rebound and put-back she got with 4:29 left in the game, giving the Lady Bears a 61-54 lead.

"Makenzie just has a knack for doing that; that comes natural to her," Mulkey said. "Odyssey, you've got to battle with her and make her get in there, and make her understand we need you in there battling for rebounds. It's just some games they're able to get more than others."

With most of OSU's defensive focus on Sims, Robertson and Davis, Johnson was oftentimes left wide open. And she made the Cowgirls pay, scoring most of her 10 points on mid-range jumpers. Until this game, her career highs were four field goals made and seven attempted.

"When I first subbed out, Coach came up to me and told me to keep shooting the ball, shooting the ball with confidence," said Johnson, who hadn't scored in double figures since December, "and I just took her words to heart and I just kept shooting until they fell in. And once it went in, they were big shots."

"Niya can do that," Mulkey said of Johnson, who averages just 4.7 points per game. "People have to try to figure out ways to defend you and defend Odyssey, and you've got to kind of pick your poison. I told her when she came to bench, 'You've got to keep going in there, and you've got get confident and make those.' And she did."

Much like Saturday's 81-47 blowout of Kansas in the quarterfinal round, Baylor got out to a fast start and took a 19-10 lead on a Sims tip-in with 8:07 left in the first half.

But the Cowgirls just refused to go away, pulling back within four on a 3-pointer by Roshunda Johnson and staying within striking distance until a closing 5-0 run that gave the Lady Bears a 31-22 lead at the break.

Freshman Imani Wright knocked down a 3-pointer to stretch the lead to nine, and almost got another shot at it in the last seconds. Inbounding from her own baseline, Robertson heaved it all the way to the top of the key on the other end to Khadijah Cave, who flipped it quickly over to Wright. But her shot, which came after the buzzer, rolled off the rim.

After trailing by nine at halftime, OSU quickly cut into the deficit and made it a three-point game, 41-38, on a LaShawn Jones layup with 15:12 left in the game.

To the Lady Bears' credit, though, they never let the Cowgirls catch up all the way. Davis answered a Tiffany Bias 3-pointer with a three-point play of her own.

And during a stretch when Kendra Suttles was having her way in the low post, actually getting OSU back within two, Robertson quieted the Cowgirl faithful with a 3-pointer.

"We've got to play harder than anybody else," Mulkey said. "You've won this tournament five out of the last nine years, so you've got a little target on your back. So, you've got to play harder than anybody else to basically defend it. And we understand that. . . . It's just a grind, and we've got to grind it out."

After Robertson's put-back, OSU got within four on three different occasions. The last one came on a Suttles layup with 45 seconds left. But instead of fouling and trying to get back in that way, the Cowgirls let precious seconds tick away, and threw up a pair of desperation 3-pointers in the last 10 seconds.

"We probably should have fouled," Littell said of a sequence that allowed Baylor to take almost 30 seconds off the clock. "Did that one play make the difference in the ballgame? Probably not, but we probably should have fouled on the rebound. We wanted to do that before it got into Odyssey's hands."

Baylor advances to Monday's 8 p.m. championship game against No. 7/8 West Virginia (29-3), who held off third-seeded Texas for a 67-60 victory in the other semifinal.

This championship final comes just eight days after West Virginia denied the Lady Bears an outright title, pulling off a 71-69 win in Waco last Sunday.

Sims has averaged 43 points in the two previous games against the Mountaineers, scoring a career-high 48 in a 78-62 road win at West Virginia and then 38 in the rematch in Waco. But she had a critical turnover in the final minute, with Baylor up by a point.

"What we did a good job of at Baylor is she had her 38, but we did a great job on the other people and didn't let them hurt us," said West Virginia coach Mike Carey. "Our goal was just going to be to keep it close going into four minutes left. Baylor likes to jump on you - go up 15, 20. We've just got to keep it close, keep it close, and then both teams have pressure on them with four minutes to go."

Here is a link to the boxscore from Sunday's Baylor-Oklahoma State women's basketball game.

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