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Lady Bears Are 2009 Women's Champs
March 15, 2009
Championship Central

By Wendell Barnhouse |
Big 12 Correspondent

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. - Scenes from a championship:

* The seconds ticking off the clock and the outcome secured, Baylor coach Kim Mulkey has a brief Jim Valvano moment; she's looking for someone to hug. Senior Rachel Allison solves the problem and the new embrace in a Lady Bear hug.

* Moments later, as the confetti gathers on the court, Allison is on her back, making a "snow" angel.

* Baylor senior guard Jhasmin Player, the straw that stirred the winning drink, is headed to an on-court television interview. She's yelling, "Gimme my ring ... Gimme my ring."

* Mulkey, joining Player for interview duty, lets out a heart felt, "Yeah."

The emotions being displayed were not produced simply by winning the Phillips 66 Big 12 Women's Championship. The second-seeded Bears (27-5) spent most of Sunday staring in the mirror.

Baylor took control in the first half and were resolute in posting a 72-63 victory over Texas A&M, a game between two teams that Aggies coach Gary Blair says are carbon copies of each other.

The Lady Bears finished second to Oklahoma during the regular-season. Since the 2005 national championship season, Baylor's program has been pretty good but not quite good enough.

The final decision on the 2008-09 season will be rendered over the next few weeks of March Madness. But no matter what is said about the Lady Bears from here on out, the word "perseverance" needs to be in the conversation.

Leading scorer and rebounder Danielle Wilson hasn't played in three weeks because of a knee injury; she's probably finished for the season. Without Wilson's low-post offense and defense, this season started to look like 2007-08. Last February, the Lady Bears were 21-1 before guard Jhasmin Player blew out her knee.

During Wilson's absence, Baylor has twice beaten Texas A&M - a team that has twice defeated Oklahoma, a likely No. 1 seed when the women's bracket is announced Monday.

"I think you now see we're not going away," Mulkey said. "What we lost the most when Danielle went down, we lost a kid that had the ability to alter shots, to block shots, and we lost a post-player that I believe in this league runs the floor from foul line to foul line better than any post in our league.

"But you still have that balance on our team. That's why I kept saying over and over, we're not going away."

The Baylor balance Sunday had Morghan Medlock coming off the bench to score 13 of her 15 points in the first half. Player picked up the baton in the second half, scoring 19 of her 25 points after intermission. The Lady Bears' bench outscored the A&M reserves 24-2.

"Our bench has been our savior but I didn't pull the right numbers," Blair said. "What Medlock did in the first half was big time. Player, I just call her a player. I recruited her hard. She's the glue of that team. Period."

The Aggies built a 17-7 lead in the first 10 minutes. The tide turned when Medlock started scoring in the lane and Baylor switched to a zone. That's right, Kim Mulkey, Miss Man-to-Man, ordered her team to play zone.

"That was a man-to-man. What game were you watching?," Mulkey joked as only a winning coach can. "You just make gut decisions. It was not something planned. It was not something I discussed with any coach on that bench. It was something I called as I watched the game. It worked. It worked."

The Aggies missed 11 of their last 14 shots, Baylor regained control with an 18-2 run and went to the locker room with a 33-35 edge.

Player scored six of her first seven second-half shots on drives, benefitting from screens around the free throw line.

"It was like she was saying, 'Hey, I'm gonna drive and get fouled or get the score,'" Texas A&M guard Takia Starks said. "Most of the time we didn't keep her out of the paint. That was the smart way to play it."

Texas A&M shot 62.5 percent in the second half but that wasn't enough to overcome Player's heroics. The Aggies made 14 of their first 19 second-half shots and pulled to within 60-58 with 4:42 remaining.

Player responded with a three-point play and a 3-pointer on Baylor's next two possessions. Her three with 2:43 remaining made it 68-60 and was the clincher.

"It feels good, but it is not over," said Player, who also had eight rebounds. "We have six more games and we want to continue to work hard and continue to do well.

The emotions were flowing, the smiles were wide, the hugs were breath-taking. This championship celebration was about a team's journey and its toughness.

Allison started the year as an All-American candidate but lost her shot after an injury. Player was trying to regain her pre-ACL confidence. Jessica Morrow, the most outstanding player, couldn't throw it in the ocean early in the season. Medlock was finally playing after transferring from USC and undergoes an unthinkable tragedy.

In acknowledging all those player issues, Mulkey made it clear that the journey is as important as the destination.

"That's why you coach," she said. "That's why you hang with kids, and that's why you persevere."

* The All-Tournament team: Tanisha Smith (Texas A&M), Morghan Medlock (Baylor), Courtney Paris (Oklahoma), Danielle Gant (Texas A&M), Jhasmin Player (Baylor), and the Most Outstanding Player Jessica Morrow (Baylor).

* Morrow made 11-of-19 3-pointers (57.9 percent) in Baylor's three victories.

* Baylor attempted a championship-game record 31 free throws, making 21.

* The attendance for the championship game was 4,340. The total attendance of 35,515 for the women's championship was the third-highest in Big 12 history. The average session attendance was 5,919.

* The NCAA Women's Tournament bracket will be announced Monday. Oklahoma is expected to be a No. 1 seed and Baylor coach Kim Mulkey lobbied for her team. “All I know is what more can we do?” she said. “If we’re the No. 1 RPI conference in America, then why can’t we have two No. 1 seeds?"

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