Five years ago, Baylor University’s Lady Bears basketball program was in a state of disaster. In search of someone to turn their team around, they looked to Kim Mulkey-Robertson. Five years later, Baylor had its greatest season in school history, restoring the reputation that had been damaged by serious issues.
Just two years ago, the Baylor Men’s Basketball program made national headlines when forward Carlton Hamilton was arrested for the murder of his teammate Patrick Denney. Shortly after, Head Coach Dave Bliss resigned once a number of NCAA violations were discovered.
However, with the 84-62 victory over the Michigan State Lady Spartans, the Lady Bears put Baylor University on the map for a different reason: winning the school’s first national basketball championship.
“Look at these fans, that’s how we’ve changed the Waco community” coach Mulkey-Robertson said to ESPN’s Doris Burke after the game. “We’re a positive presence in Waco and at Baylor University and there’s a lot of good there. There’s great programs, great coaches and this is one of many more to come.”
Baylor not only won its first-ever championship, it extended the school’s longest winning streak in school history with their twentieth consecutive victory–the most number of victories in school history.
They also had the second highest margin of victory in the national championship, falling one point shy of what Tennessee did when they defeated Louisiana Tech by 23 points in 1987. Baylor also became the third women’s basketball program to knock off three number one seeds—matching the 1988 Louisiana Tech program and the Tennessee women’s team in 1987.
Even though they won the biggest game of their lives, coach Mulkey-Robertson is quick to point out that it was the small victories along the way that lead to greatness.
“When you’re building a program, you got to take the little things and make them monumental, and that’s what we’ve been able to do,” said Mulkey-Robertson.
With Baylor winning the national title, Mulkey-Robertson, who won two national titles herself at Louisiana Tech in the 1980s, became the first woman to win a national championship both as a player and head coach. She also became the third person in college basketball to pull off that feat, behind current head coach of Texas Tech, Bobby Knight, and legendary North Carolina head coach Dean Smith.
“She doesn’t accept anything but the best from her players,” said senior forward Steffanie Blackmon who scored 22 points and seven rebounds against the Lady Spartans. “She’s just hard on you, but it pays off cause were here. We won the big thing right now.”
Mulkey-Robertson never neglects to emphasize the hard work it took for her team to get to this point. It all started with her pounding the recruiting roads in Texas to land some of the state’s talented high school players.
She molded the Lady Bears into a team that was tough, hard-nosed and competitive.
In the championship game, Baylor showed the nation what kind of team Mulkey-Robertson molded them into as they took control right from the start leading by as much as 23 and never looking back. They out-rebounded Michigan State 45-22, including 16-3 on the offensive glass. The entire team contributed to the winning effort.
Having players like junior forward Sophia Young helped seal the victory. Just six years ago, Young, originally from the Caribbean island of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, hadn’t played basketball and was coming to the U.S. to get an education. Young finished the Tourney with the 138 total points, the sixth most points in NCAA Tournament history.
“I feel like I’m living a dream really right now,” said Young who was named Most Outstanding Player. “Everything is just real, I really can’t believe it. Everything happens so fast it’s unbelievable.”
Young had a lot of help. Along with Blackmon’s solid game, sophomore forward Emily Niemann scored 19 points, hitting 5-8 from three-point territory.
Not only did Baylor’s Lady Bears win the school’s first basketball national championship, they showed America that they are now a force to be reckoned with.