NEW ORLEANS — Probably 99 percent of those who only casually follow women’s college basketball woke up Monday morning, read the headlines, then remembered what day it was and had a good laugh at the preposterousness of the idea.
Except in Waco, Texas, where Baylor’s stunning loss to Louisville was no April Fool’s joke. Suffice it to say, tears fell into the Brazos River Sunday night.
Maybe into the Mississippi, too, where local Women’s Final Four officials doubtless were counting on in influx of Lady Bears fans to push the event into sellout status.
And don’t forget the Tangipahoa where hometown heroine, Baylor coach Kim Mulkey, seemed destined to win her third national championship, this time 60 miles away from Hammond High where, as a player, the then-pigtailed wonder led her team to four state titles before winning two national crowns at Louisiana Tech.
“This is as hard a loss as we’ve ever had to deal with,” Mulkey said after the Lady Bears’ 82-81 defeat in the Oklahoma City regional.
More, probably, than in 2004, the last time the Women’s Final Four was played in New Orleans, when a 71-69 loss to Tennessee in the Elite Eight denied Baylor and Mulkey a game short of what surely would have been a high-charged encounter with LSU.
That’s because a year later the Lady Bears won it all. They took another one last year, going 40-0.
This season was supposed to be a coronation of Baylor as the supreme program in the country and Lady Bears’ 6-foot-8 senior Brittney Griner if not the greatest player in the women’s version of the game then certainly in the discussion.
Maybe Baylor treated it too much like a coronation.
Certainly during the tournament’s first two rounds played in the friendly confines of the Farrell Center on the Baylor campus, the Lady Bears, besides winning by a combined 80 points, reveled in being goofy while the normally steel-eyed Mulkey smiled approvingly.
Girls will be girls.
Except sometimes they can be pretty rough girls.
As Louisville was.
The, confident, pressure-proof Cardinals came in with a Hack-a-Brit strategy, putting hands, elbows and other assorted body parts on Griner. And mostly getting away with it, much to Mulkey’s displeasure.
They also shot lights out from beyond the arc, 8 of 11 in the first half and 16 of 25 for the game. That’s 64 percent by a team that was 31 percent on 3-pointers coming in.
“They’re unconscious,” Mulkey said during a TV timeout interview. “I’m kind of scratching my head what to do.”
And yet, Baylor came from 19 down to take its first lead of the game with 9.3 seconds left.
But Louisville’s Monique Reid took the inbounds pass and blew past Griner just beyond midcourt, drawing a desperation foul from behind by Griner as she went in for a layup.
Reid hit both free throws and it was over.
Over for Griner, who has affected the game more than any player since Cheryl Miller, but will now be remembered for winning only one title.
Over for Baylor which probably is better than Louisville 19 times out of 20, but wasn’t on the wrong night.
And over for Mulkey, who, at the team’s welcome back supper in October provided each table with king cakes, Mardi Gras beads and a signpost listing the mileage to the Lady Bears’ key games topped by “New Orleans — 511.”
“It’s a tough way to lose,” Mulkey said. “It’s hard to lose when it it’s your last game, but even harder the way it ended.”
And that’s no joke.
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