No surprises here. The Lady Bears know their path to the Final Four in New Orleans.
Make that the No. 1 overall seed Lady Bears.
As most expected, Baylor snagged the top overall seed in the NCAA tournament Monday, earning a path that starts Sunday in Waco, heads next to Oklahoma City and then finishes, Baylor hopes, in New Orleans. If the Lady Bears win their second straight national title, they’ll play two games in each location.
The Lady Bears face No. 16 seed Prairie View A&M, a team they beat in the first round two years ago, at 6:30 p.m. Sunday at the Ferrell Center. No. 8 Florida State faces No. 9 Princeton in the early game Sunday at 4 p.m. Baylor plays the winner Tuesday at the Ferrell Center.
Baylor held a selection show watch party Monday at the Ferrell Center, which ran along with ESPN’s
bracket unveil. ESPN did several live cut-aways to Baylor’s party, and Brittney Griner did a lengthy interview after Baylor was confirmed as the No. 1 seed.
“Just like last year, it was good,” Griner said. “It was great just sitting there watching everything unfold, talking on the headset, my teammates making me laugh. It’s been fun. It’s been a great day. I’m ready to play now.”
The night had a distinctly New Orleans feel to it. The “Mardi Gras Mambo” played for the crowd of about 200 before the broadcast, and coach Kim Mulkey wore her bedazzled Fleur-de-Lis shirt she wore to Baylor’s welcome back dinner in October.
Mulkey is from nearby Tickfaw, La., and she’s made it clear she’d like her next return trip home to be a business trip.
“We’re not overlooking anybody, but this is why we’re playing and this is our goal,” Mulkey said. “We’re not afraid to tell people it’s our goal to defend our championship.”
Surveying the bracket, Baylor should feel right at home. Like last year, the Lady Bears are paired in a region with No. 2 seed Tennessee. And like last year, the other No. 1 on Baylor’s side of the bracket is Stanford, which has the only win over Baylor in nearly two years. Baylor dropped Stanford by 12 in last year’s Final Four.
The other side of the bracket is similarly situated. UConn and Notre Dame are the top seeds of their respective regions with a chance to meet for a fourth time this season in the Final Four. Notre Dame won the previous three this season, including both the Big East regular-season and tournament titles. Baylor beat both on their home floors in the regular season.
The Lady Bears demolished Tennessee, 76-53, in Waco earlier this season, but they haven’t played regional No. 3 seed UCLA in several years. Same goes for Florida State and Princeton.
The Lady Bears could also potentially face No. 4 Purdue or No. 5 Louisville in the Sweet 16.
“Those are all well-coached teams and teams that have beaten us,” Mulkey said. “Louisville beat us when Jessica Morrow and Rachel Allison and those guys were here . . . While the name is the same, they’re different. They’re new coaches, new players, the name is just the same.”
The Big 12 got seven teams in, perhaps one more than expected after Kansas sneaked into the field as a No. 12 seed with an 18-13 record. The Jayhawks effectively played themselves into the field with a first-round win over TCU in the Big 12 tournament last weekend.
Oklahoma landed in Baylor’s region as a No. 6 seed, but the Lady Bears wouldn’t have a chance to face the Sooners until the Elite Eight. No. 5 Iowa State and No. 7 Texas Tech are on Baylor’s side of the bracket but in Stanford’s region.
One of the biggest surprises Monday was that Texas A&M was passed over for a No. 2 seed in favor of Kentucky, which the Aggies beat in the SEC title game last week. A&M, a No. 3 seed, could only face Baylor in the title game, but they’d presumably have to fight through No. 2 Duke and No. 1 Notre Dame first.
The tough tests come later. Monday was for revelry. While the Twitter hashtag “#BaylorvsField” ran on the screen early in the ESPN broadcast — viewers later decided Notre Dame had the best chance to knock off the Lady Bears — host Kevin Negandhi wondered aloud which team in the field might beat Baylor.
Color analyst Carolyn Peck’s answer came across quickly. It might take the Miami Heat.
“That was pretty funny,” Odyssey Sims said. “That was just a little humor. It made me laugh. It made us all laugh.”