The Baylor Lady Bears (search) simply wanted to be a shining light for a university that needed something to applaud. One dazzling national championship ought to do.
Sophia Young's (search) 26 points, Emily Niemann's precise 3-point shooting and the brilliant, energetic play of guards Chameka Scott and Latoya Wyatt carried Baylor to a 84-62 victory over Michigan State on Tuesday night for the school's first NCAA title by a women's team.
And what a title run it was. Five years after coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson took over a team that went 7-20 and was at the bottom of the Big 12, the Lady Bears now sit at the top of their sport by winning a game between two teams playing in the finals for the first time.
They did it with unforgiving defense that disrupted almost everything Michigan State (search) 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 finished the first half with 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting from behind the 3-point line.
Not that they were resting easy after that. Knowing that Michigan State had rallied from 16 down in the second half to beat Tennessee in the Sunday night's semifinals, Baylor never let up. The Spartans got no closer than nine as the Lady Bears kept answering whenever the Spartans did score.
Even with a 20-point lead, the Lady Bears kept attacking, making steals and scrambling for loose balls. They were 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.
The Baylor players finally allowed themselves a moment to enjoy themselves when, with 1:25 to go, they hugged and beamed as the Baylor fans sensed the win at hand.
When the horn sounded, the Lady Bears flopped on the floor in delirious celebration as confetti sprayed all around the RCA Dome (search). They jumped in unison, donned championship caps and fans chanted "Mulkey, Mulkey" while the players swarmed their coach.