Baylor, Mich. State rally to final

Lady Bears use zone defense, rebound from 15-point deficit to oust Louisiana State, 68-57

NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament

April 04, 2005|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

INDIANAPOLIS - The theory, for championship teams, is to play to your strength, to go with what works, to dance with the partner that "brung" you, so to speak.

Baylor women's basketball coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson, who had danced all season with a man-to-man defense, was reluctant to change a formula that brought the Lady Bears to their first Final Four appearance.

But with Louisiana State, the top overall seed in the tournament, on the verge of blowing the Lady Bears off the RCA Dome floor, Mulkey-Robertson rolled the dice and put her team into a matchup zone that flustered the Lady Tigers, and their star, junior Seimone Augustus, and got Baylor a 68-57 win in last night's national semifinal.

"When we went to the zone, we made sure we matched up and knew where she [Augustus] was," Mulkey-Robertson said. "A lot of Seimone's game, when you're in zone, is at the foul-line area. And we took that away and played it flat with a big player. And no, I'm not a zone coach, but I dang sure like to win."

The Lady Bears (32-3) extended their winning streak to 19 games and will play for the national championship tomorrow night, in large measure because of their defense, as they held LSU (33-3) to 41 percent shooting from the field. In the process, they made up the second-largest deficit ever in a Final Four game, a 15-point first-half deficit. The Lady Bears will face Michigan State, which tied a Final Four record by coming back from a 16-point deficit to defeat Tennessee, in the championship game.

Baylor held 6-foot-1 Augustus, the consensus national Player of the Year, to 22 points, which is just above her average of 20 a game. However, Augustus, one of only four LSU players to score, shot 10-for-26 from the field and looked miserable all night.

"You are never happy when you lose, especially on the stage like this. I can't see anything else but anger and frustration," Augustus said.

Said LSU coach Pokey Chatman: "We have a quote when we leave our locker room that says, `You don't always get what you want, you get what you earn.' 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."

When the two teams met in Austin, Texas, in November in the State Farm Tip-off Classic, LSU threatened to run away, leading by 19 at halftime. The Lady Bears made a furious second-half comeback before losing, 71-70, when a buzzer-beater fell short.

Augustus missed her first three shots last night, and appeared rattled all night. Some of that appeared to be a problem adjusting to the wide-open spaces behind the baskets at the RCA Dome.

More likely, Augustus' problems were caused by the defense Mulkey-Robertson threw at her. Sophomore Abiola Wabara stayed with Augustus all night, hectoring her into her worst performance since she shot 5-for-19 in a 62-57 win over Auburn in late February.

"I'm pretty sure she was a little frustrated, because she could never get the ball and go all the way one-on-one to the basket," Wabara said. "That's her play, but she couldn't do that. A lot of her shots were jumpers and she had to go a little bit out of her game."

Still, even with Augustus' poor shooting, the Lady Tigers appeared in business midway through the first half, using a 17-2 run to open a 24-9 advantage with 7:42 left.

This time, however, Baylor, which hit just four of its first 18 shots, didn't wait so long to make the run to get back into the game. After their cold start, the Lady Bears shot 7-for-10 to close the half, with All-America forward Sophia Young scoring six of her 21 points in the run.

Baylor began to mix defenses, taking the Lady Tigers out of their comfort zone, before settling on a 2-3 zone that dared LSU to shoot from the outside. The hot shooting and improved defense started a 19-4 run to close the half, capped by a dazzling off-the-dribble drive from point guard Chelsea Whitaker with 4.4 seconds left, which tied the score at 28 at the half.

"I can remember a game, the regional championship game, [where] I hated to see halftime come," Chatman said. "This particular game, we needed halftime because we totally lost the momentum going into the half."

The Lady Bears, who trailed by as many as six points in the second half, took the lead for good on two free throws by Whitaker with 6:17 to go and steadily pulled away, earning a chance to make history.

"We just beat, in my opinion, the most talented team in the country this year, with the best player in the country," Mulkey-Robertson said. "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."

NCAA Women's Final Four

At RCA Dome, Indianapolis

Semifinals

Yesterday

Baylor 68, LSU 57

Michigan State 68, Tennessee 64

Championship

Tomorrow

Baylor (32-3) vs. Michigan State (33-3), 8:30 p.m.

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