March 30, 2014
NOTRE DAME, Ind. (AP) – Muffet McGraw and Notre Dame have been on a journey all season to get back to the Final Four.
They’ve met every challenge, running through the season unbeaten.
With a victory over Baylor on Monday night, the Irish (35-0) will join a select group of schools to make four straight Final Fours. Only UConn, LSU, Stanford, Louisiana Tech and Tennessee have accomplished that feat.
“If that happens that would be a great thing for our program,” McGraw said. “It sets us apart from others. Having Skylar (Diggins) lead us to three was fun, but now to have a different team to do that. It’s a really great thing for our program.”
Standing in the way is a plucky young Baylor team led by senior guard Odyssey Sims. Coach Kim Mulkey didn’t know what to expect from her team, which lost two-time AP Player of the Year Brittney Griner and four other seniors. Sims, who helped guide Baylor (32-4) to a national championship and 40-0 season as a sophomore, would love to get them to Nashville.
“It would mean a lot, seeing all year nobody expected us to be here,” Sims said. “This team has grown faster than all of us really expected. The freshmen came a long way and stepped up to the plate. They learned their roles and are giving us a lot of production. It would feel unbelievable.”
But now the Lady Bears are back in the regional final for the fourth time in five seasons, a year after the team was eliminated in the regional semifinals by Louisville in one of the biggest upsets in women’s basketball history.
Mulkey knows it will be a tall task for her team to knock off the Irish at home, where they’ve won 27 straight games with the last loss coming against Baylor on Dec. 5, 2012.
“We don’t embrace it; we have no choice,” Mulkey said.
Five things to know about the matchup Monday night:
BEATING THE IRISH: The Lady Bears are 4-0 all-time against Notre Dame and are one of only two schools that Muffet McGraw has never beaten. All four contests have come in the past few years, including a victory in the 2012 NCAA championship game.
“We don’t have a 6-foot-8 monster in the paint that gave us an advantage,” Sims said. “It will be a grind out game, very physical. They have great guards who can shoot 3s, take you off the dribble. We got to play hard and hopefully come out with the ‘W.”
CHASING STILES: Sims is 41 points behind Jackie Stiles’ single-season record of 1,062 points set in 2001. Baylor’s sensational senior guard is averaging 28.5 points.
Sims said she only knows Stiles’ name because she’s been asked about her before, saying, “I haven’t done any research on her.” She did know how far she is from breaking the record, though.
“I’m 41 points away, but at the same time I’m just trying to play basketball. If I get it I get it, if I don’t then I’ll be fine with it,” she said.
Coach Kim Mulkey was surprised Sims even knew Stiles’ name.
“Kids tend to forget. I tell them all the time; they don’t even know who Michael Jordan is,” Mulkey said. “They live in the moment.”
HOME COOKING: Notre Dame has gone 77-5 at Purcell Pavilion over the past five seasons, including its current 27-game winning streak.
SPELLING BEE: Mulkey had a little fun in the press conference when player Sune Agbuke’s first name was spelled with an “i” on the name card.
“Somebody needs to fine and punish the NCAA. Suspend them. They got the name wrong,” Mulkey said, laughing.
OFFENSIVE SHOWCASE: No game in the NCAA tournament has had two teams so prolific on offense. Notre Dame ranks second in scoring (86.8), while Baylor is third (84.0).
“We like to play uptempo and the fans like to enjoy a lot of offense,” McGraw said. “Certainly there will be a lot of shots. I think it will be a fun uptempo game.”