INDIANAPOLIS (BP)–With chants of “No. 1” heard from the Baylor crowd, the Lady Bears dog-piled at center court to celebrate their first national championship in school history, beating the Michigan State University Spartans 84-62 April 5.
“Wow, we’re national champions. First basketball national championship for the Big 12, men or women. First for women’s basketball at Baylor. And what a performance it was,” said head coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson, who also scored a first — the first woman to win an NCAA title as a coach and a player, with Louisiana Tech as a point guard in 1982, a feat achieved in men’s basketball only by legendary coaches Bobby Knight and Dean Smith.
“I thought rebounding was outstanding for us,” Mulkey-Robertson said. “Looking at the stats, that’s the most we have out-rebounded anybody all year. And to limit them to just three offensive rebounds and make sure they only got one look at the basket, I was very proud of our defense.”
The Lady Bears only trailed once, during the first minutes of the game. After that, it was all Baylor both on offense and defense.
The Lady Bears out-rebounded the Spartans 45 to 22 for the game, including 16 offensive to just three for the Spartans. The Lady Bears were led by junior forward Sophia Young’s 26 points and nine rebounds. Senior post Steffanie Blackmon and sophomore forward Emily Niemann both had big offensive games for Baylor after struggling offensively in the past few tournament games. Blackmon had 22 points and seven rebounds, while Niemann added 19 points.
Niemann said while she and Blackmon may not have been scoring as usual, they were both playing good basketball.
“Both of us had defense solid. There’s other things than scoring and I know that I’ve seen that throughout the year from Stef and she was a great senior for us, a great leader all the way through it and we wouldn’t be here without it regardless of how many points she scored,” Niemann said.
After a slow start in which the Lady Bears turned the ball over four times in the first three minutes of the game, they settled into their half-court offensive flow.
Baylor jumped out to the early lead behind sophomore forward Emily Niemann’s five 3-pointers. Her last of the half came with eight seconds left.
“When Emily hit that first shot I was like, ‘oh yeah, she’s on,’ you know,” Young said. “I was very excited that she came in. She knocked down those two big threes for us and that just gave us a lot of momentum into the game and we knew that she was going to be hot for the rest of the night too.”
MSU head coach Joanne McCallie said Niemann hit great shots, including a few threes that “were unbelievable.”
Baylor led by as many 19 points in the first half before the Spartans went on a mini-run scoring 12 points in the final 4:20 of the first half.
The Spartans were led by Lindsay Bowen’s two 3-pointers and three baskets by Kristin Haynie. McCallie said Bowen and Haynie were great competitors and they attacked the basket more during the run.
Baylor’s defense also was active, forcing six turnovers and producing six points in the half.
The Lady Bears also out-rebounded the Spartans in the first half 21 to 10. Baylor also had eight offensive boards compared to MSU’s one. Baylor scored nine second chance points in the first half.
The Lady Bears led by 12 points, 37-25, at the half.
Michigan State scored the first basket of the second half but couldn’t produce a sustained run to overcome the deficit. The closest the Spartans came was nine points in the first minutes of the half.
McCallie said she felt her team was still in good shape in the second half despite the poor shooting.
“We just didn’t pull together the energy that we had shown against, for example, like Tennessee,” she said. “We were nine down at one point. And we were ready to go and just a few bad decisions here or there kind of helped them notch it back up again.”
Baylor notched its lead up to as many as 23 points with 6:25 left in the game. Junior guard Chameka Scott said she is overwhelmed right now about winning the national championship.
“This is an amazing feeling,” she said. “I just keep thinking we aren’t done yet and there have to be some more games to play. Overall, I am just excited and relieved that we got done what we set out to do.”
Catherine Brown is the sports editor for The Lariat, the student newspaper of Baylor University. Used by permission.