INDIANAPOLIS, April 5 -- If there was one player on Baylor that concerned Michigan State Coach Joanne P. McCallie, it was not Kodak all-American Sophia Young, or Young's highly regarded front-court partner, Steffanie Blackmon.
McCallie most worried about stopping reserve Emily Niemann -- and for good reason. The Spartans had no answer for the versatile forward from Houston who created matchup problems throughout Tuesday night's championship game, which Baylor won, 84-62, at the RCA Dome.
Niemann sank five three-point baskets in the first half and finished with 19 points to help the Lady Bears win their first NCAA title. For her efforts, Niemann was selected to the all-tournament team.
"I was feeling good tonight," Niemann said.
It didn't take long for Baylor Coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson to insert Niemann into the lineup. It took even less time for Niemann to make an impact. Before three minutes had expired on the clock, Niemann was on the court. Within a two-minute span, she sank back-to-back three-pointers.
"It was huge because [those three-pointers] deflate the other team," Baylor point guard Chelsea Whitaker said. "She shoots threes like they are layups. Anytime she's doing that, that's just great. The other team has problems getting out there on her."
What makes Niemann, at 6 feet 1, so difficult to guard is not only her size but also her quick release. The ball barely touches her hands before it is flying toward the basket. "She hit great shots," McCallie said. "You have to give her credit for that. We definitely had her scouted and ready to . . . contest her, but she hit a couple of threes that were unbelievable."
It wasn't just her perimeter shooting that benefited Baylor. Niemann's defense in the low post on Michigan State center Kelli Roehrig was exceptional. Niemann, who gave up three inches to Roehrig, was only player on Baylor with the girth to guard her. Niemann muscled Roehrig out of position and refused to let her get comfortable underneath the basket. Roehrig, who averages 13.5 points, scored eight points on 3-of-8 shooting.
"She's a great player, a strong kid," Niemann said. "It took a lot out of me. My legs are dead. They're going to be dead for probably two more weeks. I just tried as much as I could to body her up early and keep from getting in the paint."
Despite the physical battle that went on between the two, Niemann didn't pick up her first foul until 12 1/2 minutes remained in the game.
"She was trying to push me off the block, keep me out of the paint area," Roehrig said. "It was just a matter of me letting all of her pressure off of me, which I didn't do. She has a bigger body. She used it toward her advantage."