It’s been a long time since the Baylor Lady Bears lost their final game before the NCAA tournament opener.
Seven years, to be exact. But that’s the unusual place the second-ranked Lady Bears find themselves this season, after falling to sixth-seeded West Virginia, 77-66, in the Big 12 tournament championship game in Oklahoma City.
Yet asked how such an outcome might change her motivational tactics for the journey ahead, BU coach Kim Mulkey didn’t bat an eye. “It won’t at all,” she said.
Despite that defeat that ended Baylor’s run of consecutive tournament titles at six, it shouldn’t have to sweat much drama in Monday’s NCAA tournament selection show. The Lady Bears (30-3), regular-season champions of the Big 12, expect to be one of the four No. 1 seeds when the 64-team field is announced at 6 p.m. on ESPN.
They’ll host the first two rounds at the Ferrell Center for the fifth straight year. The only intrigue thereafter could be found in the location of Baylor’s regional – the site for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight rounds. For much of the season, Baylor seemed to be a lock to play in the Oklahoma City Regional, the closest to Waco and the heart of Big 12 country. Yet in his latest bracketology projections, ESPN writer Charlie Crème dropped Baylor to the fourth No. 1 seed and elevated SEC champion South Carolina (27-4) to the No. 3 overall seed.
Crème predicted that Baylor’s upset loss could send the Lady Bears to the Stockton (Calif.) Regional rather than Oklahoma City, with the Gamecocks taking Baylor’s place in OKC. (Connecticut and Notre Dame are the other two projected No. 1 seeds, and figure to play in Bridgeport, Conn., and Lexington, Ky., respectively.)
“Hopefully we’ll get a good seed and host at Baylor and go to a good regional where our fans can see us play,” Mulkey said. “You’ve got to win four games now to get to the Final Four.”
Rather than worry about where they’re headed, the more pressing question for the Lady Bears is who will be manning the point guard spot along the way. Specifically, will Alexis Jones be back in the mix? The Baylor senior has missed the past five games with a bone bruise in her knee, an injury suffered in a Feb. 20 road win over Texas.
Jones actually worked out the morning of Baylor’s loss to the Mountaineers, and told coaches that her knee felt much better. Mulkey is hoping to have Jones back in some capacity for the NCAA tourney.
Fortunately for the Lady Bears, junior guard Kristy Wallace may be playing her best basketball of the season as the NCAA’s Big Dance approaches. Wallace averaged 11.3 points, 8.0 rebounds and 9.0 assists in Baylor’s three Big 12 tournament games while logging 38 minutes a night.
Baylor’s mission is to reach the program’s first Final Four since 2012, when the Lady Bears went 40-0 and won the national title. The Lady Bears lost to hot-shooting Louisville in the Sweet 16 in 2013 before falling in the Elite Eight in each of the past three years.
The Lady Bear Tipoff Club will hold a watch party for Monday’s selection show in the Stone Room at the Ferrell Center. Doors open at 5:30, with the show to start at 6.