For the first time since 2010, the Lady Bears enter the NCAA Tournament off a loss after West Virginia topped Baylor 77-66 in the Big 12 title game.
From that contest, Kim Mulkey wants to see her team start out faster than they did in Oklahoma City.
The Mountaineers outscored Baylor 22-14 in the first quarter and held a nine-point advantage at the half before going up by more than 20 after three.
It wasn’t until the fourth quarter when the Lady Bears finally kicked things into gear.
“I’ve always believed that your teams take on the personality of the coach,” the Baylor coach said. “To put it simply, I’m fiery. I’m passionate. I pump my fist and I want them to do that coming out of the gates. I didn’t think we did that in the last game until the fourth quarter.”
Putting four quarters together won’t be rocket science for the Lady Bears.
They’re a No.1 seed in the NCAA Tournament with a 30-3 record.
But it’s vital in order to get to the Final Four.
“It would be fun to watch them try to do every game these four, six, whatever we get to play,” Mulkey said, “and see how good we really are.”
Texas Southern is in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history.
Despite all the excitement around the program, the Lady Tigers seem unphased.
“I received many phone calls about their temperament, how they’re doing,” Texas Southern coach Johnetta Hayes-Perry said. “It’s like it’s another game for them, and they’re saying it, but they truly mean it. This team plays fearless. Small, not big in numbers, but fearless all the time, whether they’re up or down, no matter who we’re playing.”
The Lady Tigers have only one senior on the roster as many of the starters are underclassmen.
Hayes-Perry hopes this experience sets the foundation for the future of Texas Southern women’s basketball.
“We’ll return everybody but one player going into next year,” Hayes-Perry said. “I want them to enjoy the experience but learn from the experience, to have some growth and see how hard they can work. To get a piece of the Big Dance each year (they have to see) how hard you have to work to get here and win here.”
Back in the dance
On Selection Monday last year, Nikki Fargas had her players fill out their brackets as the match-ups were announced.
Even though LSU didn’t have a shot at making the tournament after the Tigers went 10-21 on the season when injuries and other issues decimated the roster.
“They needed to know what that felt like,” Fargas said. “When they did that, I think it sent a message to them throughout the entire summer that we wanted to have our name called and have an opportunity to play and be in the hunt, if you will, for a championship.”
Entering this season, LSU was picked to finish 11th in the SEC by the league coaches.
The Tigers used that as motivation as they went 13-3 at home as well as 11-2 in non-conference with that pair of losses coming to nationally ranked UConn and Kansas State.
“It’s an amazing feeling to be rewarded for all the work that we’ve put in,” senior Alexis Hyder said. “Falling short last year hurt us, and we were determined to make it this year.”
No sophomore slump
Kristine Anigwe had a great freshman season a year ago at Cal.
The forward averaged 20.4 points and 9.3 rebounds per contest while shooting 57 percent from the floor.
A year later, she’s doing even better.
Anigwe currently averages 21.2 points and 9.3 rebounds per game while nearly doubling her blocks and cutting down her turnovers by 20.
“I think her college career thus far has been remarkable, and so to sort of start out as strongly as she did the beginning of her freshman year and still grow and improve is pretty impressive,” Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. “I think her biggest growth has been in her ability to handle all situations, to be able to take a loss or a difficult defense against her and turn that into a positive outcome the next time out. I think she’s a better passer than she was last year. I think she’s a more efficient player than she was last year. She’s extended her range a little bit.”
She’s already reached the 1,000 career points mark, becoming the quickest player to do so in Cal women’s basketball history.
Anigwe averaged 30 points per game at the 2017 Pac-12 Tournament.
“I’ve gotten better at finishing, I guess,” Anigwe said. “Relying on my teammates more and knowing that trust. We all trust each other more, so I feel like that’s what really helped us become like a better team.”
By mid-afternoon Friday, 4,150 tickets had already been sold for Saturday’s NCAA first round contest between No. 1 Baylor and No. 16 Texas Southern.
All-session tickets for the first and second-round NCAA games in Waco are $35 for reserved, which includes a ticket for both nights and three games. Single-session tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for youth.
“We’re in a part of the country where women’s basketball is valued,” Mulkey said. “People of fixed incomes, people who have money, they make sure that they support these players. It does matter in women’s basketball. Just as I’ve always said, it does us no good to put these things in arenas where TCV shows no one in the stands. I was all for us going back to first and second round games on home courts.”