March 19, 2005
SEATTLE - Lately, everything has started at the defensive end for Baylor. Just ask Illinois State.
The second-seeded Lady Bears looked every bit the part of a trendy Final Four pick, scoring the first 17 points and coasting past the 15th-seeded Redbirds 91-70 Saturday in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
"These players have been playing together for a while now and on the defensive end of the floor it's almost magical. It's fun for them, if you can believe that," Baylor coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson said. "It's really set the tone for us the last two weeks of the season."
Baylor (28-3) held Illinois State scoreless the first 5:35, as the free-shooting Redbirds missed their first eight shots. Illinois State made just 9-of-29 attempts in the first half.
While Illinois State (13-18) struggled, Baylor's inside duo of Sophia Young and Steffanie Blackmon started strong. Young and Blackmon combined for 25 points in the first half and scored 12 of Baylor's first 17 points against Illinois State's zone defense.
Young finished with 21 points and made 11-of-13 free throws. It was her 41st consecutive game scoring in double figures.
All 14 Baylor players saw action and 10 scored. No Baylor starter played more than 26 minutes, and most sat out the majority of the second half.
"I thought our defense was pretty special the first five minutes," Young said. "I think we did a pretty good job attacking their zone and we knew we needed to jump on them."
"These players have been playing together for a while now and on the defensive end of the floor it's almost magical."
It was Baylor's third-highest point total of the season. The Lady Bears scored 99 in a 103-99 triple-overtime loss at Nebraska and beat Montana State 92-47.
Baylor will play 10th-seeded Oregon in the second round of the Tempe Regional. It was Baylor's 15th straight victory, with its last loss coming Jan. 22 at Texas, 69-55.
"When you reach the NCAA tournament, you correct things but you must move quickly to the next opponent," Mulkey-Robertson said. "Not much time is going to be spent going back to the Illinois State game."
The Redbirds were making their first tournament appearance since 1989. Down 43-23 at halftime, Illinois State cut the deficit to 43-27 with 18:16 left, but Baylor scored 14 of the next 20 points.
Jaci McCormack led the Redbirds with 20 points, but she and fellow starter Megan McCracken were up most of Friday night with the flu.
"I tried not to use that as an excuse," said McCormack, who was the only Illinois State player in double figures.
This is the second time in four tournament appearances that Baylor is a No. 2 seed. All four trips to the tournament have come under current coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson. The Lady Bears were a No. 2 seed in 2002 but lost at home to Drake in the second round.
Last year, the Bears reached the regional semifinals, but lost to Tennessee 71-69. Tennessee's Tasha Butts made two free throws with 0.2 seconds left after Baylor's Jessica Stratton was called for a foul while scrambling for a loose ball.
Illinois State became the lowest seed to win the Missouri Valley Conference tournament when it beat Indiana State 72-70 for the title as the No. 8 seed. The Redbirds became the third team to make the NCAA tournament with a losing record and the first since Missouri in 1994.
"It's been a good run that ended up a little too short for our liking," Redbirds coach Robin Pingeton said.