By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
Kim Mulkey has missed an NCAA Tournament game before. In 2009, Baylor survived and won a first-round game that went overtime while Mulkey was hospitalized after surgery to remove a kidney stone.
The Lady Bears' coach will miss her second NCAA game when No. 2 seed Baylor plays a first-round game against No. 15 seed Western Kentucky Saturday. Mulkey was suspended for one NCAA game for criticizing the officiating after the Lady Bears were upset in last year's Sweet 16.
"I'm suspended, I don't regret being suspended. I'm going to fight for my team, and that's why I'm suspended," Mulkey said.
She'll watch the game with Hilltoppers from her house. If Baylor wins, she's eligible to return for the second-round game. Associate head coach Bill Brock, who has spent 11 years as an assistant to Mulkey in two different stints, will be in charge of the team.
Western Kentucky coach Michelle Clark-Heard is in her second season as the coach of her alma mater. Newcomers to the women's game probably aren't aware that the Hilltoppers used to be a power. She was part of four NCAA Tournament teams as a player (1987-90). Western Kentucky played in the Final Four in 1985, 1986 and 1992.
"We have some trophies, too," Clark-Heard said. "It's been a while, so what we try to talk about … is making sure we can get back to this point with our program and let our program grow."
Baylor senior guard Odyssey Sims spent most of the season as the nation's leading scorer. Her average has dipped to 28.4 and she is now second in Division I in scoring. Sims totalled 62 points in her last four games after scoring a total of 77 in back-to-back games to end the regular season.
"We'll need to step up a lot more, do whatever we've done before," Sims said. "I think we'll handle it just fine."
Notre Dame Regional
5:30 p.m. Saturday, Waco
No. 2 Baylor (29-4) vs. No. 15 Western Kentucky (24-8)
Baylor probable starters: Odyssey Sims, 5-8 Sr. G; Mackenzie Robertson, 5-9 Sr. G; Niya Johnson, 5-8 Soph. G; Niana Davis, 5-11 Fr. F; Sune Agbuke, 6-4 Jr. C.
Western Kentucky probable starters: Kendall Noble, 5-11 Fr. G; Micah Jones, 5-8 Soph. G; Chanell Lockhart, 5-10 Jr. G; Chastity Gooch, 6-0 Jr. F; Jalynn McClain, 6-0 Soph. F.
Fast breaks: Baylor lost at home only twice in the last four seasons. Both game this season - against defending national champ UConn in mid-January and to West Virginia in their last home game. … The Lady Bears are 5-1 in NCAA home games, the lone loss to Drake in a second-round game in 2002. … Western Kentucky won the Sun Belt Conference tournament and automatic bid in dramatic fashion, scoring 18 of the final 22 points to beat Arkansas State. … The Hilltoppers are making their 17th NCAA Tournament appearance but first since 2008. … Western Kentucky has won 10 in a row. They have won 20 games in back-to-back seasons after winning just nine games in 2011-12. What's next: Winner plays on Monday against the winner of No. 7 California and No. 10 Fordham.