April 5, 2005
Box Score |
By CHUCK SCHOFFNER
AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS - The Lady Bears hugged, flopped on the floor in giddy delight and embraced
their coach as a rainbow of neon-colored confetti rained down on the RCA dome.
Sophia Young's 26 points, Emily Niemann's precise 3-point shooting and the
brilliant, energetic play of the backcourt carried Baylor to an 84-62 victory
over Michigan State on Tuesday night for the school's first NCAA title by a
"What a team I get to coach!" coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson said. "It wasn't
the coaching, it's these guys taking me for a tremendous ride."
And it was a fast one.
Five years after Mulkey-Robertson took over a team that went 7-20 and was
last in the Big 12, the Lady Bears were pulling on championship hats after a
run through the tournament that included three victories over No. 1 seeds:
North Carolina, LSU and finally the Spartans.
Both teams were playing in the finals for the first time. The margin was the
second-largest in a championship game, falling one point short of the record
set in 1987 when Tennessee beat Louisiana Tech 67-44.
When the horn sounded Tuesday night, the players jumped in unison amid the
streamers and screamed "We won! We won!" as fans chanted "Mul-key!
Mul-key!" - a tribute to a coach who had taken the program to heights never
"She doesn't accept anything but the best from her players," Baylor's
Steffanie Blackmon said. "She's just hard on you, but it pays off, cuz hey,
we're here and we won the big thing right now."
They did it with unforgiving defense that disrupted almost everything
Michigan State tried, and by poking enough holes in the Spartans' matchup zone
to stay comfortably ahead after zooming to a 19-point lead in the first half.
Niemann keyed the early surge and finished the first half with 15 points on
5-of-7 shooting from behind the 3-point line; she finished with 19.
"I think (Niemann) was the whole key to this game," Michigan State coach
Joanne P. McCallie said. "If you take 51 off the floor, it was a different
game. She was definitely the X-factor."
Not that the Lady Bears were resting easy after that. Knowing that Michigan
State had rallied from 16 down to beat Tennessee two nights before, Baylor kept
attacking, making steals and scrambling for loose balls.
Their killer instinct was a perfect reflection of their feisty coach, who
practically glowed in a bold aqua-blue pant suit as she stormed back and forth
in front of the bench, calling plays, pleading for calls from the officials and
cajoling her players to keep pressing - even with a 20-point lead.
Young was unstoppable in the second half, scoring 18 points. The 6-foot-1
junior, who came to the United States from the West Indies at age 15 and had
never played basketball before that, was named the most outstanding player of
the Final Four.
"Well, all those moments all just paid off right now," Young said. "This
is what I came here for and I'm living my dream."
Young went 10-for-19 from the field, grabbed nine rebounds and had four
assists. Blackmon helped out with 14 points in the second half to finish with
The victory completed an unprecedented double for Mulkey-Robertson, who
became the first in the women's game to play for a national championship team
and then coach one. She was the starting point guard when Louisiana Tech won
the first NCAA title in 1982, and later became an assistant coach at Tech,
spending 15 years there before taking the Baylor job in 2000.
The Lady Bears (33-3) finished the season with 20 straight victories and
helped erase an ugly stain on the university, which was rocked two years ago by
a scandal in the men's basketball program that was uncovered after a former
player was accused of killing a teammate.
"Look up at these fans," Mulkey-Robertson said. "That's how we changed
the Waco community. We're a positive in Waco and at Baylor University. There's
a lot of good there, there's great programs, great coaches, and this is one of
many more to come."
Michigan State (33-4) had reached the title game with unselfish play that
epitomized team basketball. But guards Kristin Haynie and Lindsay Bowen had to
do it almost by themselves in this one - and that was asking too much.
Bowen scored 20 points and Haynie 17, but Baylor negated Michigan State's
two powerful inside players. Kelli Roehrig scored only 8 points and Liz Shimek
had 7. Baylor also owned the boards, outrebounding Michigan State 45-22.
"There was a lack in the post area," Roehrig said. "We really didn't hold
Baylor led by 12 at halftime after blunting a mini-rally by the Spartans at
the end of the half. Michigan State hung around for a while early in the second
half, giving the Spartan fans - who included men's coach Tom Izzo and football
coach John L. Smith - hope that another big comeback was possible.
Not this time.
Baylor kept getting the ball to Young and Blackmon for baskets, while guards
Chameka Scott and LaToya Wyatt kept harassing Haynie and Bowen. With under 7
minutes to play, the lead had grown to 22. Even the Spartans had to feel they
were finished by then.
Wyatt, a reserve who played only 2 minutes in Baylor's semifinal win over
LSU, also contributed eight points and six rebounds. Scott added seven points,
four rebounds and three assists.
When it was over, McCallie, who engineered a five-year turnaround of her
own, managed a bright smile as she shook hands with Mulkey-Robertson, knowing
the Spartans had lost to a superior team.
"They're hurting a lot right now, as we all are because the season's over,
and it's just a funny feeling to have it be over," McCallie said. "But in the
long run, they're going to look back and realize that they were part of the
greatest team ever at Michigan State and one of the greatest teams ever."
Baylor frustrated the normally efficient Spartans from the start with its
sticky man-to-man defense. The Lady Bears tipped passes, contested shots and
often had Michigan State desperately seeking a good look at the basket with the
shot clock winding down.
At the other end, the Spartans couldn't find Niemann and she made them pay.
Her first two 3s gave Baylor a lead it would never relinquish and her four
basket from long range made it 32-13. Bowen and Haynie then led a 12-run that
pulled Michigan State to 34-25.
The momentum was swinging the Spartans' way and then Niemann doused it with
an NBA-range 3 from the left side with 8 seconds remaining to take the lead
back to 12.
It was more of the same after that. Baylor never stopped until it was time