- Mechelle Voepel, espnW.com
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DENVER -- Baylor remained undefeated and advanced into the NCAA women's basketball championship game behind stellar play, of course, from Terran Condrey.
Uh what? Yes, that's right, the reserve senior guard who scored in double figures only twice previously this season -- both times in January -- helped lead Baylor in a grind-it-out 59-47 victory against star-crossed Stanford in Sunday's second national semifinal. The Lady Bears (39-0) will play Notre Dame in Tuesday's national championship (ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET), hoping to become the seventh team to cap a perfect season.
Showing another aspect of why Baylor has been impossible, so far, to beat in 2011-12 was Condrey, who had 13 points. The expected superstar, center Brittney Griner, also scored 13 but was bottled up for much of the game by Stanford's defense.
The Cardinal essentially dared the Baylor guards -- other than standout Odyssey Sims, whom they also attempted to blanket -- to try to beat them from the perimeter. Condrey accepted the challenge. Maybe you were surprised at what she did, but her coach wasn't.
"She's a jewel to coach," Baylor's Kim Mulkey said. "Just one of those low-maintenance players, a great shooter. She hit the big shot two years ago against Tennessee [in the Sweet 16]."
But it wasn't until this past December that Condrey gained the nickname "Big Shot T" from freshman teammate Sune Agbuke for a few clutch baskets that Condrey made during the nonconference season.
Saturday when the media visited Baylor's locker room, Condrey seemed surprised, and a little giggly, at being asked a few questions. After all, this is the team of the unanimous first-team All-American Griner and the quicker-than-quick Sims.
The typically designated "unsung heroes" for Baylor are Destiny Williams, Kimetria "Nae-Nae" Hayden and Jordan Madden. But all of them will tell you that Condrey is one of the team's quiet leaders. The kind who regularly stays late after practice to work on her jumper, regardless of how many minutes she might get in the next game.
Sunday when reporters came in to chat with Condrey, she was prepared.
"I'm not reallyquiet," Condrey said, grinning. "Maybe a little quiet. I practice to be ready if we need a big shot. So even at the end of the game, I can make it. In the second half tonight, Coach Mulkey was like, 'We've got to hit some shots.' I had a confidence and made them."
Condrey was 5-of-9 from the field. Previously, she had scored just 19 points combined in Baylor's seven postseason games of Big 12 and NCAA tournament play.
"Terran's a senior, and the minute I saw what they were doing [defensively], I inserted her," Mulkey said.
Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said of Condrey, "She stepped up nicely. I think she gave them some momentum. If I were to do it [her defensive game plan] again, I would probably do it the same way."
Griner was 3-of-9 from the field, while Sims was 4-of-11. Both played 40 minutes, but neither was able to dominate the way both have so many games this season.
"Griner does what she does: She draws a lot of attention, and we're not a one-dimensional team," Mulkey said. "Our team is not just Brittney Griner."
Baylor had to prove that Sunday. Credit for that goes to Stanford, which leaves its fifth consecutive Final Four empty-handed. The Cardinal last won the NCAA title in 1992, and have been to the Final Four eight times since with no championship.
Meanwhile, Baylor is in its third Final Four since Mulkey took over the program in 2000-01. The Lady Bears won the 2005 title as a No. 2 seed, using a huge second-half rally in the semifinals against LSU and then keeping Michigan State at arms' length in the final.
Then in 2010, Baylor went to the Final Four with a team loaded with youngsters such as then-freshman Griner. They lost 70-50 to eventual champion UConn, but gained valuable experience. Last year, feeling they were ready to win a title, the Lady Bears were disappointed in the Elite Eight with a loss to Texas A&M.
So what we've seen this year from Baylor is a team both highly talented and extremely motivated. But one other major thing that makes Baylor so formidable is defense. Stanford's 47 points was the team's lowest scoring total this season.
"You can't make passes that you usually make," VanDerveer said of what Baylor does to teams. "You can't attack in the same way you're used to attacking."
Baylor had a 25-23 lead at halftime. The Lady Bears gradually built their lead to 12 on a layup by Condrey with 8 minutes, 24 seconds left. And even though Stanford was able to whittle down the lead to six with 4:27 left, Baylor never blinked.
Oh, and that brings up just one more aspect of why the Lady Bears are unbeaten: They don't panic.
"We have had several games, believe it or not, where we've had to grind through," said Mulkey, who is coaching despite having Bell's palsy, which she says is more annoying than painful. "These kids have seen everybody's best shot, every defense imaginable. We're 39-0, and they deserve to play for a national championship.
"They've got a gimpy coach up here that can hardly hear, see or talk, yet they pull me through."
14dBonnie D. Ford