How’s the weather up there?
For the Baylor Lady Bears, who boast more than a few high-altitude Doppler radar towers, it’s looking awfully sunny.
Baylor’s incomparable length stands out as one of the bigger reasons the Lady Bears could play for a long time in this NCAA tournament. Baylor has size to spare. Even the “littles” – the guards – are big.
The Lady Bears, coached by one of the spunkiest smaller stars in women’s college basketball history in Kim Mulkey, ironically present a very tall task for anyone trying to show them the exit from the Big Dance. Even stranger – a program that once featured 6-foot-8 legend Brittney Griner in the middle may have actually grown in sheer length and stature since those days.
OK, I did the math – Baylor’s 2012 national championship team in Griner’s junior year featured nine six-footers on the roster. That’s two more than the Lady Bears’ current bunch.
However, the 2017 edition isn’t merely limited to a bunch of six-foot perimeter players. Baylor’s roster is equipped with six players of at least 6-foot-2. That’s actually two more than that aforementioned 2012 Lady Bear squad.
More to the point, as in the here and now – Baylor’s length poses problems for even the most elite teams in the women’s game. None of the other No. 1 seeds in the tourney – Connecticut, South Carolina or Notre Dame – have as many 6-2 players as the Lady Bears. (They’ve got five apiece). Three of the four No. 2 seeds can’t match that number either. Only Duke – which rolls out an equally towering roster of 10 six-footers and seven players of at least 6-2 – can win the stepping-off-the-bus battle with Baylor.
At least those teams can play with Baylor. (UConn can play with – and beat – anybody in the women’s game, and obviously has, including the Lady Bears in Storrs.)
A munchkin like Texas Southern, in contrast, has no chance. Saturday’s record-setting NCAA opener resembled a high school varsity team playing against the seventh-grade squad. That’s not intended as a slight against the Tigers, champions of the SWAC. Good for them for making history with the school’s first NCAA tournament berth. They should be proud of that achievement, and enjoy the madness of March, however brief it was.
To put it in a purely Texas way – bless their little hearts.
Baylor, however, is on another level. It has penthouse goals, which is why it recruits all those skyscrapers in the first place.
Texas Southern’s players needed one of those rim-cutting Werner ladders (official ladder of the NCAA tournament, of course) against Baylor’s frontcourt. At one point in the first half, backup post Beatrice Mompremier didn’t even jump in dropping in a layup over top of a Tiger defender. Shortly thereafter, she held her ground – and kept her feet planted again – in stuffing Texas Southern guard Chynna Ewing’s shot on the other end.
It just wasn’t fair.
Baylor coach Kim Mulkey noted after the game that the game of basketball isn’t necessary trending toward beanstalk lineups. More teams instead are mimicking the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, she said, a team that prefers to spread the floor with 3-point shooters and fire away from the parking lot.
But Mulkey doesn’t mind striding a different path.
“I know where my bread was buttered. I got it to the big girls,” she said. “Who in the country is going to turn down size? … I’m not going to turn down 6-7, 6-4, 6-4. I’m just not going to do that.”
The teams will get tougher as the tournament progresses. It won’t always be this easy. Nor do you win games based on height alone.
But, as Baylor showed on Saturday, it sure doesn’t hurt.