It's all Baylor in women's title game

Inside-outside attack wraps up Mich. State for first crown, 84-62

NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament


INDIANAPOLIS - The Baylor women's basketball team adopted a slogan, 'Finish The Job' in the offseason, referring to their elimination from last year's tournament when a phantom foul was called with 0.2 of a second left in the Midwest Regional semifinal against Tennessee.

The Lady Bears finished the job convincingly last night, winning the national championship with a brilliant inside-outside performance, beating Michigan State, 84-62, before 28,937 at the RCA Dome here.

Reserve sophomore forward Emily Niemann hit five first-half three-pointers to loosen up Michigan State's matchup zone, before Baylor's inside combo of junior Sophia Young and senior Steffanie Blackmon torched the Spartans inside.

The two combined for 48 points and 16 rebounds, as Young, a Kodak All- America, was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four.

The win, the first national title for Baylor (33-3) in any major sport, made head coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson the first woman to coach a national championship team after winning a title as a player, as Mulkey-Robertson won titles in the AIAW and NCAA, as a point guard at Louisiana Tech.

The Lady Bears" rise to the top of women's basketball has been meteoric, as Baylor was 7-21 five years ago, the year before Mulkey-Robertson took over.

The Spartans (33-4), who tied a tournament record in Sunday's semifinal, erasing a 16-point deficit against Tennessee, never got within nine of the Lady Bears in the second half, as Baylor shut down the Spartans interior game of forward Liz Shimek and center Kelli Roehrig.

Trailing by 12 at the half, the Spartans, who finished tied with Ohio State in the Big Ten regular season and won the conference tournament, traded baskets early in the second half, but never could put a sizable dent in Baylor's margin.

Michigan State coach Joanne P. McCallie called the Spartans" 45-22 rebound deficit to Tennessee in Sunday's 68-64 comeback win over the Lady Vols "horrendous." Her words for last night's gap to the Lady Bears couldn't have been much better, as Baylor pounded the Spartans on the boards.

In one key sequence in the second half with about 10 minutes to go, reserve Latoya Wyatt missed a free throw, but Young was there to get the rebound. She dribbled for a moment, then put up a shot and was fouled. Young made the first free throw, missed the second, got her own rebound and scored on the putback to give Baylor a 17-point lead and crush Michigan State's spirit.

Coming into last night's final, the Michigan State players had shown a remarkable resilience in close games this season. The Spartans had played 17 games either leading or trailing by eight or fewer points in the final three minutes. In those games, Michigan State outscored its opposition 144-66 in the final three minutes.

Early on, the Lady Bears looked rattled, turning the ball over on four of their first five possessions, before Niemann connected on a three-pointer with 17:40 left. Niemann hit another three about two minutes later and Baylor had a 6-2 lead.

After Michigan State's Liz Shimek scored on the baseline to slice the deficit to four at 12-8, the Lady Bears went on a 10-2 run.

Baylor would extend the advantage to 32-13 after Niemann hit the fourth of her first-half three-pointers. From there, the Spartans got off the deck behind their backcourt duo of senior Kristin Haynie and junior Lindsay Bowen, who accounted for all of Michigan State's last 15 points of the half.

Niemann notched her fifth three-pointer with eight seconds to go to give Baylor a 37-25 lead at the break.

That Mulkey-Robertson, a 2000 inductee in the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, is taking Baylor to its first Final Four, rather than bringing her alma mater, Louisiana Tech, where she won two national championships as point guard, is interesting.

Former Louisiana Tech coach Leon Barmore, himself a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., retired for the first time in 2000, apparently paving the way for Mulkey-Robertson, his lead assistant, to take over.

However, the school only offered Mulkey-Robertson, a Louisiana native, a four-year contract, rather than a five-year deal. She turned Louisiana Tech down flat and took the Baylor offer.

Look, I spent 19 wonderful years of my life there [at Louisiana Tech]." said Mulkey-Robertson. "Thirty-eight years of my life were spent in one state. No matter where my career takes me I'll always be a Louisiana girl. But I am very, very loyal, I am loyal to a fault. And I felt that after 19 years of being at Louisiana Tech, and Leon stepped aside so I could inherit that program and I will never forget that, I felt that I was worthy of a five-year contract. It's the standard in the business. I had turned down three head coaching jobs with significantly more pay to stay at my alma mater. They started out with a three-year contract, they felt they were doing me a favor by offering me a four-year, I was hurt and I left. That's the story. Nothing more. And thank God for unanswered prayers."

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