Defense comes first for Madden
Top-ranked Lady Bears visit No. 3 UConn on Big Monday (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET)
WACO, Texas -- Maybe Baylor coach Kim Mulkey is slightly exaggerating to make a point. Then again, maybe not. Speaking of how current seniors Jordan Madden and Kimetria Hayden defended when they got to Baylor, Mulkey was blunt -- even for her.
"I go back to their freshman year, and we're at Missouri and get beat," Mulkey said of a January 2010 loss. "It was at that moment that I challenged them: You better learn how to play defense.
"They were pathetic, awful, they couldn't get over screens. The point was, they'd never been made to be defensive stoppers. It's a different level."
Both have improved dramatically, to say the least, and Madden in particular has turned into Baylor's designated defensive stopper. While much of the focus of Monday's Baylor-Connecticut showdown (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET) in Hartford, Conn., will be on stars such as centers Brittney Griner and Stefanie Dolson, Madden could well be one of the key players.
UConn's Kelly Faris has earned well-deserved acclaim for her relentless prowess as a defender. And she has been a huge factor for the Huskies, especially in their signature wins this year.
Faris' numbers (10.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 102 assists, 65 steals) are a bit better than Madden's (8.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 75 assists, 40 steals). But from a defensive standpoint, they both have that same "give me the the toughest assignment" mentality.
Mulkey said that doesn't just "happen." Players have to pledge themselves to making it happen.
"I think there are defining moments in players embracing what [their] role is," Mulkey said. "I just remember how bad [Madden and Hayden] were in the  Missouri game on the road, and from that moment on, each one of them has gotten better.
"Jordan having the length a little more on the perimeter and being able to play for longer periods of time, she's evolved into being the one who's assigned the best [scorer] on the perimeter."
Unless that player is a point guard, in which case Odyssey Sims would get that assignment. But Madden certainly could do that, too; she's become such a reliable and versatile defender that she allows the Baylor staff the freedom to concentrate on other things.
"It's a comfort level you get as a coach," Mulkey said, "when you go watch film and one of the best players we already know is going to be guarded by Jordan. Then it allows you to focus on everybody else."
Madden said one of the biggest things that aided her defense was having to guard former Baylor player Melissa Jones in practice for her first two seasons. Jones, known for going 100 percent all the time on court, pushed Madden to become more determined and resilient.
"She was always attacking and rebounding," Madden said. "So I had to go out there and try to stop her every day. I got better at defense just by guarding MJ.
"When I got here, I had no defense. And now, Coach calls me a defensive stopper."
Mulkey is also pleased with how Madden has improved offensively, plus how she has matured off the court.
The 6-foot guard out of Lepanto, Ark., averaged 5.2 points her freshman season, 4.1 as a sophomore, and 4.3 last season during Baylor's 40-0 run to the national championship. So as a senior, she has doubled her scoring average.
"When your life is good away from basketball, you're usually playing good basketball," Mulkey said. "If something goes awry away from the court, you usually struggle away from the court.
"Jordan is having a fantastic senior year because she is taking care of her business in the classroom; she understands her mistakes of the past. She wants to be remembered as a good person and a good basketball player."
Madden is scheduled to graduate this year, and she hopes to play professionally. Mulkey thinks the best compliment to a coach is when players get noticeably better during their time in the program, and Madden is a good example of that.
Madden has helped Baylor outscore its opponents by an average of 29 points, and hold them to 32 percent shooting from the field.
"At this level," Mulkey said, "if you don't have somebody you can assign to the best player on the other team, you're just not going to be very good."