As Kim Mulkey put it Monday night in Austin, it wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark.
The Baylor women’s basketball staff knew the percentages for the Lady Bears obtaining their eighth-straight Big 12 regular season championship. Heading to Austin with three games left, and a two-game lead over Texas, they knew a win over the Longhorns would clinch the title outright.
“Even had you not won tonight (Monday), you only needed (one) win to share it, possibly,” Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey said. “But then you would have needed two to win it outright.”
Like Noah, Mulkey and her staff planned ahead. Big 12 championship hats were in the locker room when the Lady Bears returned after holding off Texas for the 93-87 win. Seated between seniors Kristy Wallace and Dekeiya Cohen – who both wore their hats to the postgame press conference – Mulkey was asked where her hat was.
“Somebody’s got it. I got drenched,” Mulkey said. “Y’all got a good cleaners here? I’ll send you the check if y’all rush this to the cleaners.”
When asked what she got drenched with, Mulkey replied that it was water. But then, with a smile, she whispered, “With a little bit of champagne. But don’t tell Baylor.” Of course, it was a joke. And the Baylor head coach reiterated that fact over and over while laughter filled the room.
But what isn’t a joke is the dominance these Lady Bears have played with for eight straight years.
Let’s put this into perspective. When Baylor’s streak of eight straight Big 12 regular season titles began back in March 2011, Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” was atop the charts, Rango was released in theaters, the Green Bay Packers won Super Bowl XLV, the countdown neared less than two months until the Royal Wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton and the Dallas Mavericks were three months away from winning their first NBA title.
The last time someone other than the Lady Bears won the Big 12 championship, freshmen Alexis Morris, Didi Richards, Moon Ursin and Trinity Oliver were in fifth grade.
“These kids don’t come to Baylor to win games, they come to win championships,” Mulkey said. “And they don’t run their mouths about how many championships they’re going to win. They just go out and play hard. They have a competitive fire within. They have a coach that has a competitive fire that tries to bring it out of them. But until you’ve finished the job and you get that championship, just go to work every day.”
Baylor’s reign was impressive before looking at the mere fact that the Lady Bears have won more Big 12 championships in a row (eight) than Texas (two), Texas Tech (three) and Kansas State (two) combined. In total, Baylor has won nine Big 12 titles with its first coming in 2005. Oklahoma has won six total with its longest streak of three titles from 2000-02.
Nationally, there are nine other schools that have done what Baylor recently accomplished Monday night in Austin – string together a minimum of eight-straight conference championships. Bowling Green and Louisiana Tech each won eight-straight titles, in the MAC for Bowling Green from 2005-12 and in the Sun Belt for Louisiana Tech from 1994-01. Marist had nine straight in the MAAC from 2005-13. Gonzaga, Chattanooga, Stanford and Connecticut each had 11-straight – Gonzaga in the WCC (2005-15), Chattanooga in the Southern Conference (2000-10), Stanford in the Pac-12 (2002-14) and Connecticut in the Big East (1994-04).
“It means something to us to win a Big 12 championship,” Mulkey said. “You have teams that have terrible conferences that they play in and it doesn’t mean anything to them. We play each other twice. We know everything about every team we play. It’s hard.”
Rise as One
That was evident Monday night in Austin as the Longhorns surged back to take a one-point lead halfway through the third quarter. Kalani Brown was on the bench after picking up her second and third foul in the span of 32 seconds less than two minutes into the second half.
But Baylor didn’t panic. Mulkey didn’t even call a timeout after the Longhorns took the lead to talk to her team. Instead, those on the floor – Morris, Wallace, Juicy Landrum, Cohen and Lauren Cox – knew what they had to do. Wallace delivered the answer to quiet the crowd 15 seconds after Texas took the lead.
The two seniors scored 14 of Baylor’s last 16 points in the third quarter to take a nine-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.
“We stayed calm,” Wallace said. “In those situations, that’s what you need to do. I think each player stepped up and realized that we need to score, and we found a way to do it.”
They’ve done it all season long on and off the court. When Kristy Wallace, Dekeiya Cohen and Kalani Brown decided on “Rise as One” for this season’s motto, they couldn’t have forecasted how perfectly it would describe this team.
“We have had one heck of a year with trauma and we’re (26-1), ranked third in the country and going to get a high seed in the NCAA Tournament,” Mulkey said. “If you go back to what these eight kids have been able to handle and how resilient they are and how they laugh and they cry and they’re strong and they pull for each other, it really is amazing.”
On the court, when Natalie Chou went out with an injury, Juicy Landrum stepped up. Landrum was there again for Baylor when Wallace found herself in foul trouble, it was Landrum who defended Texas’ Brooke McCarty for a portion of the third quarter. While the Longhorn senior finished with 32 points, she only scored four in the third quarter.
And then with the game coming down to the wire and Texas finding energy from their full court press with traps, Cohen went to work on the offensive glass to secure Baylor second chance opportunities.
“We’re down to eight now, so I think that it’s just us all working together,” Wallace said. “We need everyone to contribute because we just don’t have the numbers. So, being able to rise as one and play together is huge.”
But eight is enough. And the most enjoyable part of all for Mulkey is watching her team. She’s mentioned numerous times throughout this season that all 10 of them can fit around one table at team meals. And that chemistry to evident to those who watch them play as they celebrate each other’s successes and build up a teammate when she’s frustrated.
“I see them laugh, I see them chest bump,” Mulkey said. “If you don’t think chemistry matters in sports, go back and look at the history. The ones that have the great players don’t always win championships. It’s those kids that pull for each other and those kids that are all about the team. Now, we have great players. But those great players have to come to Baylor and sacrifice and be for each other.”