Commentary

Baylor business-like in Big 12 win

Lady Bears (34-0) quickly turn attention to next goal: the NCAA tournament

Originally Published: March 10, 2012
By Mechelle Voepel | espnW

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Baylor celebrated another Big 12 women's tournament championship -- earned in a 73-50 victory over Texas A&M -- in a rather sedate way. Well, other than center Brittney Griner log-rolling down one of the hallway ramps in ancient Municipal Auditorium.

"Y'all missed it," Baylor coach Kim Mulkey told the assembled media in the interview room. "This kid likes to have fun."

The conference tournament has been in this historic building in downtown Kansas City 11 times during the Big 12's 16 seasons. But it seems unlikely it will ever be back; next year, the Big 12 is separating the men's and women's tournaments for the first time. In 2013, the women will be in Dallas at American Airlines Center, a short drive up Interstate 35 for Baylor and its fans.

They'll keep good memories of Kansas City, where the Lady Bears played in four finals, winning three of them. In all, Baylor has gone 4-of-6 in Big 12 finals, now tying Oklahoma for most league tournament championships. Baylor's other league crown came when the 2009 tournament was in Oklahoma City, which many observers feel is the best home for the event.

[+] EnlargeOdyssey Sims
AP Photo/Jeff TuttleTexas A&M coach Gary Blair said Baylor will win the NCAA title if Odyssey Sims plays like she did Saturday.

Wherever it's played in the future, though, it's hard to imagine there will be a more dominant performance in the title game than the one Baylor had Saturday. The No. 1 seed, after an 18-0 regular-season record in Big 12 play, won its three league tournament games by an average of 22.7 points. The Bears' 23-point margin of victory over Texas A&M was the largest in a Big 12 title game, surpassing Oklahoma's 19-point win over Texas in 2004.

Superstar Griner -- the Big 12 Player of the Year and favorite for that honor nationally, too -- had season lows in points (11) and rebounds (three) in her 26 minutes Saturday. But it didn't even matter.

Three other Baylor players scored in double figures, led by point guard Odyssey Sims' season-high 26 points. Destiny Williams had 12 points and 11 rebounds; Sims, Williams and Griner were on the all-tournament team. Griner, who had 45 points against a Kansas State team that single-covered her for much of the semifinals Friday, was named tourney MVP.

Baylor won for the 11th time in the last 12 meetings with Texas A&M, and the game never seemed in doubt with the Lady Bears getting off to a 14-0 lead.

"We have a damn good basketball team," Texas A&M coach Gary Blair said of his Aggies, who were playing in their fifth consecutive Big 12 title game; it will also be their last as they head to the SEC next season. "But we played the best team in the country today. And if they get the opportunity to win a national championship, we congratulate them and we'll pat them on the back."

Texas A&M was the team that stopped Baylor in its quest for an NCAA title last season, when the Lady Bears also beat the Aggies in K.C. for the Big 12 tournament title. That game, a 61-58 nail-biter, was far closer than Saturday. Baylor was a little younger then, and Texas A&M -- which went on to win the NCAA title -- had starters Danielle Adams, Sydney Colson and Tyra White.

Adams and Colson are now in the WNBA; White, a senior, had to sit out this Big 12 tournament in her hometown of Kansas City because of a foot injury. Blair said that White tried to see if she could play Saturday morning, but the pain was too intense and he thought there was no sense risking it. The Aggies would rather give White's foot more time to heal before the NCAA tournament.

Besides, the Aggies didn't beat Baylor even with White during their two regular-season meetings. So … who can beat Baylor?

"They can be beat because of Notre Dame, Connecticut, Stanford, Tennessee or Duke," Blair said. "Whoever gets hot during the playoffs. It's hard to be the best all year and then maintain it. That's why we have the playoffs. Can you do it every night? Can you not have a bad night?"

[+] EnlargeBrittney Griner
AP Photo/Jeff TuttleBrittney Griner had season lows in points (11) and rebounds (three), but added six blocks and plenty of postgame cheer.

One of Baylor's worst nights last season was the Elite Eight final against Texas A&M, a 58-46 loss. That motivated the Lady Bears during this season. While Blair acknowledged those other teams that potentially could beat Baylor, that doesn't mean he's predicting anyone actually will.

"Baylor is that good," Blair said. "And, yes, [Griner] is the best player I've ever played against. And I've played every single one of them except Carol Blazejowski. I've coached against them or seen them, and that's the best."

The interesting thing is that on Saturday, Griner wasn't the best player for Baylor. Sims was, as she added five rebounds, three assists and four steals to her 26 points. She made 9 of 15 shots from the field and 7-of-8 from the foul line. Against ranked teams this season, Sims is averaging 20.8 points per game.

"They will win a national championship if Odyssey Sims can play at that level consistently, because she's so doggone smart," Blair said. "If she can play that way, I do not believe there's a better point guard in the country that can play both ends of the court.

"They've got some unselfish players that are about winning championships. They've got kids that will share the spotlight while Griner does her thing."

Such as Jordan Madden (10 points, four rebounds) and Kimetria "Nae-nae" Hayden (five and seven). Griner enjoyed that, too, saying, "I love games like this. This is a special team."

Actually, Texas A&M is a good team, too, regardless of how it looked Saturday. The Aggies went 11-7 in Big 12 play this season but showed during the first two games of this tournament that they have the capacity to make another NCAA tournament run.

"We probably won't play a team better than Baylor, and we played them three times," said Aggies center Kelsey Bone. "We have to use these things. There's some good things that happened in this game today, but we shot 27 percent."

That's what Baylor does to you -- along with relentless attacking on offense. They dominated the Big 12 in every aspect this season.

"I told them after the game how proud I was of them, and that I understand the mission that we're on," Mulkey said. "But this is special. And don't take it for granted.

"I've really loved their mindset. They're not in the locker room high-fiving, ooing and awing, going crazy in there. It's more like a business-like approach. Let's get ready for what you ultimately want, and that's the national championship."

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.

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