Kim Mulkey is a self-described creature of habit. She follows certain routines, born of both design and her Type A personality.
One of her habits is to speak freely, to answer questions off the cuff. So when she brings a crib sheet to an interview session, you can bet there are some points she doesn’t want to miss.
When the NCAA Women’s Basketball Committee revealed a sneak peek at its “if the season ended today” bracket on Monday, Mulkey naturally had an opinion about it. The Baylor coach leads the No. 1-ranked team in the land, but she said that the NCAA’s bracket didn’t really reflect that. The Lady Bears were sent to Greensboro, North Carolina, to the Eastern time zone rather than the presumably more geographically friendly Chicago Regional, and according to the rankings they were linked with the most challenging collection of other seeds in second-seeded Notre Dame, third-seeded Maryland and fourth-seeded South Carolina.
“I’m going to give you the good and the bad, which one you want first? The bad? That was a bad bracket,” Mulkey said. “That bracket was not fair, that bracket was not balanced. I think if we’re the overall No. 1 seed, because they did put out 1 through 16. If we’re the overall No. 1 seed, we got the benefit of neither geography or the S-curve. And the other three No. 1 seeds either got one or both.”
Indeed, the other three No. 1 seeds in the NCAA’s early bracket were given the benefit of playing in regions closer to home, as Oregon was put in the Portland (Ore.) Regional, Connecticut was slated to the Albany (N.Y.) Regional, and Louisville was linked with Chicago. Mulkey acknowledged that there isn’t a Regional that makes real geographic sense for Baylor this year – Greensboro is 1,158 miles from Waco, while Chicago sits 1,061 miles away – but she couldn’t figure out why that quandary wasn’t balanced by an easier collection of teams.
“Give us one or the other if you can,” Mulkey said. “I understand that. But that was not a good look for women’s basketball in general.”
As for the good news from a Baylor perspective, nothing is set in stone at this point. Much like the early College Football Playoff rankings mean little in the grand scheme of things, so too is the NCAA’s early women’s bracket just an exercise in creating discussion and, sometimes, amplifying angst.
“The good part is, I think every analyst that talked about it, we all agree that that was not a fair bracket,” Mulkey said. “Another good part is that the committee has time to get it right. And the third good part is that there’s a lot of basketball yet to be played.”
True enough. The No. 1 Lady Bears (22-1 overall, 11-0 Big 12) will hit the court again on Wednesday, taking on Kansas State at 7 p.m. in Manhattan, Kan.
Mulkey has passed her affinity for routine down to her team, and it’s created a certain pattern. The Lady Bears tend to follow the same schedule on road trips, pair up with the same roommates, even eat the same meals.
Then they typically go out and win. Rinse, lather, repeat.
“Leave at the same time, go there to practice, eat the same food, room with the same roommates, do the same film sessions. Nothing really changes, other than the opponent,” Mulkey said.
Baylor senior guard Chloe Jackson pointed to the team’s preparation as the secret to their glistening road record. The Lady Bears are 10-1 away from Waco, losing only to Stanford in mid-December. They’ve won their six Big 12 road games thus far by an average margin of 17 points.
“(It’s) just preparation,” Jackson said. “Getting focused, getting locked in at practice, and that just carries over to the game. We know the game plan, we stick to the game plan, and we just follow through with it, and it works out.”
In Baylor’s first meeting with K-State on Jan. 9, the Wildcats invaded the personal space of Kalani Brown, surrounding the senior post with defenders. Brown still managed to finish with 16 points – right at her average – as the Lady Bears outscored the Wildcats, 52-16, in the paint.
When Brown carves out deep position in the post, she’s practically automatic. If she’s able to do that against K-State, that could lead to another Lady Bear road regularity: Slapping a muzzle on the fans.
“Silencing the crowd is what we love to do, especially on the road,” Jackson said. “Because crowds can be a sixth man. But we get a kick out of it.”
Kansas State has been one of the streakiest teams in the Big 12 this year. The Wildcats have won their last two games, both on the road, following a three-game losing streak. They own one Top 25 win on the year, an 87-69 home win over then-No. 11 Texas on Jan. 16. … If the Lady Bears can run the table in conference play, it would mark the second straight year they’d done so and the fourth time overall. They also went undefeated in Big 12 action in the 2012 and 2013 seasons. … Kalani Brown is 29 points shy of 2,000 for her career, and needs 22 rebounds to reach the 1,000 career plateau in caroms.