By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
Earning a top-2 seed in the NCAA Tournament for the eighth year in a row, the second-ranked Baylor Lady Bears (31-1) are the No. 2 seed in the Lexington Regional and will host 15th-seeded Grambling (19-13) in a first-round matchup at 6:30 p.m. Friday at the Ferrell Center.
"You're just excited," said coach Kim Mulkey, whose team has reeled off 28 straight wins since a Nov. 18 loss at UCLA. "I don't get caught up in (seeding), I really don't. . . . What does it matter? Mississippi State was a No. 2 last year, and they played for a national championship. We were a No. 2 seed in 2005, and won a national championship.
"You want to be one of the top seeds so that your fans can stay home the first two rounds and see an NCAA Tournament on your home floor."
Earning the Big 12 Conference's automatic bid as the tournament champion, the Lady Bears are making their 15th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance and 17th in 18 years, all under Mulkey.
"This is just an exciting time of year," Mulkey said. "There is nothing like March Madness. When you're in the NCAA Tournament, it's a memory that last a lifetime. And, of course, there's only one that ends up happy. But, that's what you play for, these moments."
Seventh-seeded Michigan (22-9) faces 10th-seeded and tournament newcomer Northern Colorado (26-6) at 4 p.m. Friday in the other first-round game, with the winners meeting in the second round on Sunday for a trip to Lexington, Ky., for the Sweet 16.
Rated the hardest region by three of ESPN's four experts, the Lexington Regional includes a third-ranked Louisville team earning its first-ever No. 1 seed; eight-time national champion Tennessee as the No. 3; two-time national champion Stanford at No. 4; and a 2016 Final Four team in Oregon State at No. 6. After ending in the Elite Eight each of the last four seasons, Baylor is trying to make it back to the Final Four for the first time since winning it all in 2012.
"I think I'm as motivated as I possibly can be, really," said 6-2 senior forward Dekeiya Cohen, who is averaging 12.1 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. "Right now, it's now or never for us, especially for me. And now that (senior guard Kristy Wallace) is out, it would be a nice gift for her, for us to make it to the Final Four, for her to come back and watch us play. Ever since I've been here, the Elite Eight has been a hurdle. This year, I think we can cross that obstacle."
Wallace, a first-team All-Big 12 pick who averaged 12.9 points and 5.3 assists, suffered a torn ACL in the final regular-season game and missed the Lady Bears' three-game run at the Big 12 Championship.
Freshman Alexis Morris started the last three games at point guard, averaging 14.3 points, 3.7 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 2.0 steals and joining the post combo of Kalani Brown and Lauren Cox on the all-tournament team.
"I'm not surprised Alexis does that," Mulkey said. "Alexis does that every day in practice. The mistakes she makes in games are typical freshman mistakes that you may not see. But, I have to work extremely hard myself as a coach to stay focused, because I took for granted that Kristy would do it for me. . . . She's going to make me stay on my toes more."
Wallace flew back to Australia over the weekend to see a physician her national team recommended and may not be back for this weekend's games.
"If she gets over there and they decided to do surgery, and that's who she wants to do it, they'll do surgery," Mulkey said. "She still has to graduate, she still wants to be here for the banquet. She wants to be a part of the run, the playoffs. When you fly that far, I'm not sure if you do decide to have surgery over there how quickly they will release you to fly. But, she wanted to get over there and make a decision and move on and get back here as quick as she can."
The Lexington Regional will be held March 23 and March 25 at Kentucky's Rupp Arena, with the Final Four held March 30 and April 1 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio.
Mulkey said she's not going to think about anything beyond Grambling, Michigan and Northern Colorado, which is led by former Texas All-American and longtime Kansas State assistant coach Kamie Ethridge. A traditionally strong SWAC school from Louisiana, Grambling State is led by the all-conference backcourt combo of 5-9 senior Monisha Neal (10.3 ppg, 6.2 rebounds) and 5-7 junior Shakyla Hill (17.1 ppg, 7.5 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 4.9 steals).
Earlier this season, Hill became the first Division I women's player in 29 years to record a quadruple double with 15 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists and 10 steals in a 93-71 win over Alabama State.
Brown (20.2 ppg, 10.1 rebounds), a Slidell, La., native who was tabbed a first-team All-American by Sports Illustrated on Monday, said she has "a few friends, AAU teammates, that play for Grambling. So, I'll get to see them."
"I'm definitely going to get a text message, if I haven't already. 'What's up, Kalani? We're going to come see you,''' said Brown, who was named the Outstanding Player at the Big 12 Tournament.
Tickets to the first and second round of the NCAA Tournament are on sale now through the Baylor Ticket Office at www.baylorbears.com/tickets, by phone at 254-710-1000 or in person at the Ferrell Center ticket office.
All-session tickets are $35, with single-session tickets priced at $20.
WACO, Texas - The second-ranked Baylor Lady Bears (31-1) secured the No. 2 seed and will face the 15th-seeded Grambling (19-13) on Friday, March 16 inside the Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas, the NCAA announced Monday evening. Joining Baylor and Grambling in the NCAA Tournament First Round action in Waco are seventh-seeded Michigan (22-9) and 10th-seeded Northern Colorado (26-6).
The Baylor/Grambling game will tip off at 6:30 p.m. (CT), while the Michigan/Northern Colorado contest will begin at 4 p.m. Both games will be televised on ESPN2.
The Lady Bears are making their 15th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance and 17th overall, all coming under the direction of 18th-year head coach Kim Mulkey. Baylor, which compiled a 31-1 record on the season and earned the Big 12 regular season title with a perfect 18-0 mark, owns a 42-14 (.750) record in NCAA Tournament action.
The program has advanced to three Final Fours (2005, 2010, 2012), which have resulted in two NCAA Championships in 2005 and 2012. In each of the last four seasons and five times all-time, the Lady Bears have ended the season in the Elite Eight.
First round winners will meet in the second round on Sunday, March 18, with the winner advancing to the Lexington Regional on Friday, March 23 and Sunday, March 25 at Rupp Arena.
The 2018 Women's Final Four will be played at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. National semifinals will be held on Friday, March 30 at 6 p.m. (CT) and 8:30 p.m., with the national championship game taking place on Sunday, April 1 at 5 p.m.
First and Second Round NCAA Tournament tickets are on sale now through the Baylor Ticket Office online at www.baylorbears.com/tickets, by phone at 254-710-1000 or in person at the Baylor Ticket Office at the Ferrell Center.
All-session tickets are $35, single session tickets are $20, group tickets are $10 (groups of 10+) and staff tickets are $5. Every person, regardless of age, must have a ticket to enter the facility.
NCAA Tournament Appearances
2001 - 0-1, lost to Arkansas, first round (Durham, N.C.)
2002 - 1-1, lost to Drake, second round (Waco, Texas)
2004 - 2-1, lost to Tennessee, Sweet 16 (Norman, Okla.)
2005 - 6-0, NCAA Champion (Indianapolis)
2006 - 2-1, lost to Maryland (NCAA champion), Sweet 16 (Albuquerque, N.M.)
2007 - 1-1, lost to North Carolina State, second round (Raleigh, N.C.)
2008 - 1-1, lost to Pittsburgh, second round (Albuquerque, N.M.)
2009 - 2-1, lost to Louisville (NCAA runner-up), Sweet 16 (Raleigh, N.C.)
2010 - 4-1, lost to UConn (NCAA champion), Final Four Semifinals (San Antonio, Texas)
2011 - 3-1, lost to Texas A&M (NCAA champion), Elite Eight
2012 - 6-0, NCAA Champion (Denver)
2013 - 2-1, lost to Louisville, Sweet 16 (Oklahoma City)
2014 - 3-1, lost to Notre Dame, Elite Eight (Notre Dame, Ind.)
2015 - 3-1, lost to Notre Dame, Elite Eight (Oklahoma City)
2016 - 3-1, lost to Oregon State, Elite Eight (Oklahoma City)
2017 - 3-1, lost to Mississippi State, Elite Eight (Oklahoma City)
NCAA Tournament Seeds - Sites
2001 - No. 8 - Durham, N.C.
2002 - No. 2 - Waco, Texas
2004 - No. 4 - Albuquerque, N.M.; Norman, Okla.
2005 - No. 2 - Seattle, Wash.; Tempe, Ariz.; Indianapolis
2006 - No. 3 - Tucson, Ariz., Albuquerque, N.M.
2007 - No. 5 - Raleigh, N.C.
2008 - No. 3 - Albuquerque, N.M.
2009 - No. 3 - Lubbock, Texas; Raleigh, N.C.
2010 - No. 4 - Berkeley, Calif.; Memphis, Tenn.; San Antonio
2011 - No. 1 - Waco, Texas, Dallas
2012 - No. 1 - Bowling Green, Ohio; Des Moines, Iowa; Denver
2013 - No. 1 - Waco, Texas; Oklahoma City
2014 - No. 2 - Waco, Texas; Notre Dame, Ind.
2015 - No. 2 - Waco, Texas; Oklahoma City
2016 - No. 1 - Waco, Texas; Dallas
2017 - No. 1 - Waco, Texas; Oklahoma City
2018 - No. 2 - Waco, Texas
NCAA Tournament by Seed
No. 1 - five times (2011, `12, `13, `16, `17)
No. 2 - five times (2002, `05, `14, `15, '18)
No. 3 - three times (2006, `08, `09)
No. 4 - twice (2004, `10)
No. 5 - once (2007)
No. 8 - once (2001)