INDIANAPOLIS, April 3 -- Not a single person on the Baylor sideline tried to hide her emotions in the giddy moments following the Lady Bears' 68-57 victory over LSU in an NCAA tournament national semifinal on Sunday night.
The players, who had rallied from a 15-point deficit to upset the top-seeded team, danced across the floor of the RCA Dome, embracing one another and waving to their green- and gold-clad fans. Coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson, who has taken Baylor from the bottom of the Big 12 to the national final in just five seasons, threw her hands in the air and pumped her fists.
In the battle of All-American's, Baylor's Sophia Young, left, got the best of Louisiana State's Seimone Augusuts.
(Michael Conroy - AP)
"We just beat, in my opinion, the most talented team in the country this year with the best player in the country," a more subdued Mulkey-Robertson said afterward. "You get down 15, and I'm looking at my coaches, going, 'We're getting embarrassed on national television.' And I challenged my players and once again what warriors they are. This is something else."
It certainly is, considering that just five years ago Baylor was finishing up a 7-20 season. The Lady Bears made their first NCAA tournament appearance in 2001, made their first Final Four this season, and now will play in their first national championship game. Baylor (32-3), which has won 19 consecutive games, will play the winner of the Tennessee-Michigan State semifinal on Tuesday night.
Junior Sophia Young, Baylor's all-American forward, had 21 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists. The Lady Bears got key contributions from unexpected sources as well: Reserve Emily Niemann had 14 points on 5-for-7 shooting, and sophomore Abiola Wabara had 12 points (double her season average), including 10 in the second half.
LSU (33-3) had been the top-ranked team in the country for much of the season, and the Lady Tigers had rarely even been challenged (just nine of their 35 games were decided by 10 points or fewer).
LSU junior guard Seimone Augustus, the national player of the year, finished with 22 points, but she had to work for every basket. The Lady Bears knew that it would be difficult to shut down Augustus, so they wanted to make sure that none of her teammates had a big night. They succeeded in that; only three other LSU players scored, led by point guard Temeka Johnson (14 points, seven assists) and center Sylvia Fowles (13 points, 12 rebounds).
Baylor held the advantage in points in the lane ( 32 to 24), it shot eight more free throws than LSU (and made 18 to LSU's eight), and it held the explosive Lady Tigers to just two fast break points.
"We have a quote in our locker room that says, 'You don't always get what you want, you get what you earn,' " LSU Coach Pokey Chatman said. "I'm sure our kids wanted to win. But we didn't do a whole lot to go out there and earn it, and I think that Baylor did."
The Lady Bears lost to LSU, 71-70, in their season opener, a game in which they rallied from a 19-point halftime deficit. For the first 13 minutes on Sunday night, it appeared as if Baylor was headed for another big halftime hole. The Lady Bears missed 14 of their first 17 shots, and with 7 minutes 40 seconds left until the break, they trailed 24-9.
But that's when everything changed. Mulkey-Robertson called a timeout and she told her players to roll up their sleeves and get to work. Blackmon and Steffanie Young, Baylor's all-American forwards, scored six straight points, and Chameka Scott banked in a three-pointer to narrow the gap to six.
Baylor ended the half on a 19-4 run to tie the score at 28 at the break. The Lady Bears made 8 of 11 in shots in that run, but more important, they shut down LSU after switching to a zone defense, forcing the Lady Tigers into four turnovers.
"It's always good to take momentum into the locker room, especially when we had as tough a start as we did," Niemann said. "That was big for us."
The Lady Tigers turned to Augustus and Johnson after halftime, and the pair combined for 17 of LSU's first 21 points after intermission. LSU led 49-45 with 8:13 to play, but the Lady Tigers went scoreless from the floor for the next five minutes.
Meantime, Baylor found ways to score, whether it was Scott curling off a screen for a tough jumper, Wabara driving right at the LSU defense, or Young pulling up for a soft shot. The Lady Bears led 59-51 with 3:21 to play -- LSU had faced that kind of deficit only twice during the season, and never this late in a game.