Commentary

40 for 40: Baylor's perfect season

Originally Published: April 2, 2012
By Mechelle Voepel | espnW

DENVER -- Baylor's Destiny Williams acknowledged there was a mixture of elation, relief and even just a little sadness when her team won the NCAA women's basketball title Tuesday.

"I'm kind of upset the season is over," Williams said after Baylor's 80-61 victory over Notre Dame at the Pepsi Center. "I really want to play more ballgames, you know? It feels good to win a lot of games."

Baylor won more than any other hoops team in NCAA play. Now, as we look back on the run to perfection that concluded at 40-0, we offer a "40 for 40" compilation of notes, quotes and anecdotes about the NCAA champs who reached this numerical peak in the Rockies.

1. Second time around: Baylor coach Kim Mulkey now has two national championships as a head coach to go along with two as a player (Louisiana Tech). She also has one as an assistant coach (also at Tech). Mulkey's first title in her playing days was in the AIAW tournament.

2. Ferocious start: Baylor began this season with a final score that was a palindrome: 82-28. The unfortunate victim was Howard.

3. Piling up points: Baylor scored 3,136 points in 2011-12, an NCAA women's single-season record for a team.

[+] EnlargeBaylor Celebration
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesBrittney Griner and Jordan Madden celebrate the Lady Bears' win.

4. Age is relative: Williams is a year younger than Brittney Griner but frequently refers to her teammate as "the kid."

Williams said of Griner after Tuesday's game, "A lot of people look up to her. They respect her. And off the court, the kid is...

At that, Griner began to laugh, saying that Williams sounded, "Like she's 30 or something."

Williams smiled and continued, "She's funny. She's well-liked off the court. She's a regular student."

5. Speaking of kids: Mulkey on how Griner responds to young fans: "She stays until the last kid gets an autograph at camp."

6. Big 12 doubles up: The league won both the NCAA title with Baylor and the WNIT title with Oklahoma State this year. Throughout the season, Mulkey, like all Big 12 coaches, wore an orange lapel pin that looked like a ribbon shaped in the number "4." It was in tribute to Oklahoma State coaches Kurt Budke and Miranda Serna, who were killed along with husband-and-wife OSU boosters Olin and Paula Branstetter when the plane Olin was piloting crashed in November.

7. What's in a name? Mulkey's middle name is Duane. She explained in her book, "Won't Back Down," that her mother intended it to be Duan because she liked how that sounded but somehow it got mixed up on her birth certificate.

8. What's in a name 2: Griner's middle name is Yevette. But considering her love of autos (and anything that goes fast) she'd probably prefer it be "Corvette." Although she couldn't fit comfortably in a sports car.

"Can't get that little sports car," she said of the only thing she finds bad about being 6-foot-8.

9. Floor it: Griner loves skateboarding, kayaking, mountain biking, go-karting and in general says, "I am definitely a risk taker. I've always been like that. I broke my go-kart when I was younger, jumping hills. I'm a little spontaneous. Maybe reckless. I'm a thrill seeker. Basketball came into my life in ninth grade, but there are so many other things I like to do."

10. But rule this one out: Mulkey, in talking about what a "big kid" Griner is, mentioned that she did backflips at football games. That was news to Griner.

"I definitely can't do a backflip," she said. "I'm too big for it. I can do little cartwheels. That's probably what she meant."

11. Team ball: Baylor had 20 assists Tuesday, the fourth most in an NCAA title game.

Kimetria "Nae-Nae" Hayden and Jordan Madden had five each; Mulkey said all season that those two guards would be the key to Baylor winning the national championship. With their playmaking and their defense, it proved to be the case. Both were also able to make timely baskets for Baylor.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesRobert Griffin III celebrated Baylor's title by cutting down the nets.

12. Board work: Baylor's 46-27 edge in rebounding over Notre Dame was the third-largest margin in a national championship game; it tied with Connecticut versus Oklahoma in 2002.

13. Earning at the stripe: Griner is tied with former Stanford guard Candice Wiggins for most free throws made (99) in the NCAA tournament. Griner was 11-of-15 from the line in her two games at this Final Four.

14. Practice those freebies: Griner improved her free throw shooting percentage from 68.4 percent her freshman season to 77.7 as a sophomore to 80 this year.

15. Do the 'do: Baylor's Heisman trophy winner Robert Griffin III was at the Final Four to cheer on Griner & Co. But he also likes to tease her that he had the dreadlocks/braids look before she did.

Meanwhile, Baylor reserve guard Makenzie Robertson sported French braids for the title game -- the same as her mother, Mulkey, was known for wearing in her playing days.

16. Family affair: Robertson said she was thrilled to win a title with her mom, who explained why Makenzie insisted on going to Baylor even though she would have more opportunity to get playing time elsewhere.

"I tried to push her and say, 'Go visit other schools,'" Mulkey said. "But she said, 'Mom, you've always told us, 'Why waste someone's time and money if you know where you want to be? I don't care what my role is, someday I'm going to cut that net down with you as one of your players.' She got to do that."

[+] EnlargeKim Mulkey
AP Photo/Eric Gay Thirty years after a French-braid-wearing Kim Mulkey won the NCAA title as a player, Makenzie Robertson donned the same 'do to help Mom win the 2012 championship.

17. Family affair, Part 2: Mulkey's son, Kramer Robertson, is a baseball standout who could have played at Baylor. But instead, the high school junior will be going to LSU.

"He told me, 'Mom, to me, LSU baseball is the equivalent of the New York Yankees; they expect to be in the World Series,'" Mulkey said. " I told him I'd be there as much as I can, and I will be."

18. Tweet-tweet: Griner said that she is on Twitter but under a name only her friends and family members know.

"I don't have that many followers," Griner said. "Maybe 200. Mostly just people I know. So all the Twitter accounts that are Griner42 or Brittney Griner -- they're all fake. I don't know who's doing them, but they're not me. I've got an alias name."

19. Below freezing: That's what you call anything under 32 degrees. But it's also a good description of Baylor's field goal percentage defense. Baylor held its opponents to 31 percent shooting from the field this season. Brrrrrrrrrrr.

Baylor has held its past 215 opponents under 50 percent from the field, a streak that dates back to March 25, 2006.

20. Lock down: Many coaches consider sophomore Odyssey Sims to be the top perimeter defender in college. Yes, she's super fast, but what else makes her so good? She keeps it simple.

"Pressure to the ball, that's pretty much it," Sims said. "I don't really have anything that goes through my mind. Just try to create a turnover."

21. Building blocks: Tuesday's final was the 50th consecutive game in which Griner blocked a shot. She has at least one block in 109 of 112 career games. Baylor had the most blocks in a single season in NCAA history, with 310. Griner had 206 of those. For her career, she has 599 blocks.

22. Avoiding DQs: Despite all those blocks, Griner has fouled out of a game only once in her career, which came her freshman season. Asked how she avoids fouling while blocking shots, Griner said, "Just playing smart; trying to keep my body away. Really don't need to body them up to block a shot."

As Williams puts it: "She has a very, very, very, very long arm."

23. Made in the shades: Last year, Baylor senior guard Melissa Jones had to wear sunglasses on the court for the last month of the season to protect her eyes. She was left without sight in one eye after diving to the floor for a loose ball and hitting the side of her head. Jones still doesn't have her vision fully back.

[+] EnlargeBrittney Griner
Chris Humphreys/US PresswireBrittney Griner tied with former Stanford guard Candice Wiggins for most free throws made (99) in the NCAA tournament.

Meanwhile, Mulkey is dealing with Bell's palsy, an ailment that has partially paralyzed her face for now and has left her sensitive to bright lights. So, in some of the Final Four's news conferences, Mulkey also donned shades.

24. Staying healthy: Winning a title does have some luck involved from the standpoint of avoiding injuries. Baylor was able to do that with all its starters. Griner, Sims and Madden played in all 40 games. Hayden played in 39 and Williams in 38.

25. Tough break, tough kid: The one difficult injury Baylor had to go through was with redshirt sophomore Shanay Washington, who's been plagued by knee problems. She played in 10 games this season but then suffered her fifth (yikes) ACL tear.

Still, Mulkey complimented Washington for what she brought to the team.

"Shanay was a starter for us as a freshman, that's how much I think of her talent," Mulkey said. "She has a decision to make at the end of this [season] to either give up the game or have another surgery. There's lots of things she's thinking about.

"But she's part of this team. She'll always be a part of this team whether she can play again or not."

26. Not off the shelf: Griner on shoe shopping: "Can't really go into the store, 'Hey, I need a 17,'" she said of her size. "I can go online. More options, more colors, different styles. It's not bad."

27. Right move: Williams spent a semester at Illinois but realized it was a mistake and transferred to Baylor.

"The problem was, when I signed, it was a big class; there were six of us," Williams said of the Illini's recruits for 2009-10. "I went to play USA Basketball, and I was gone most of that summer. So, while I was doing that, the other five had time to bond with each other and the other teammates.

"When I came back, I was solo. It just wasn't the fit I expected. The coaching staff finally understood and released me. I'm happy I made that decision."

The coach who recruited her to Illinois, Jolette Law, was let go this season and replaced by Matt Bollant of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

[+] EnlargeOdyssey Sims
Matt Ryerson-US PRESSWIREOdyssey Sims says her approach to defesne is pretty simple -- keep pressure on the ball.

28. Right move 2: Another transfer for Baylor was Brooklyn Pope, who is from Fort Worth, Texas, but played her first season at Rutgers. She contributed mostly off the bench this season for Baylor.

"Brooklyn is our highest leaper," Mulkey said. "She could dunk the basketball if her hands weren't so small."

29. Best for last: Of course, the team dunker is Griner. But she didn't throw down a slam this season until the NCAA tournament. She did a one-step, one-handed dunk against Florida in the second round, then had a breakaway two-hander in the Sweet 16 against Georgia Tech.

30. A Yankee on court? Williams, from Benton Harbor, Mich., is the only non-Southerner on Baylor's roster. The rest of the squad hails from Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and Oklahoma.

"It's rubbing off on me," Williams said of living in Texas. "I love the weather; sometimes I miss winter. Then I'm like, 'Ah, no. I don't miss all the snow.' The only think I don't like about Texas is July and August, when it's 110 degrees.

"Other than that, it's a fantastic team with a phenomenal group of fans who are always talking to you like family. Since Baylor is a private school with a smaller campus, you can get to know everybody pretty quickly. But I have random conversations with people anyway. We can be leaving a restaurant, and I just start talking to someone. That's just how I am."

31. Southern hospitality ... to a point: UConn coach Geno Auriemma was surprised when Baylor fans gave him a rousing ovation of welcome to the Ferrell Center back when the Huskies visited Dec. 18.

"I didn't know if they just do that to everybody when they think they're going to kick their butt," Auriemma joked. "But it's a great environment to play basketball in."

32. Closest call: Baylor had five games decided by single digits, the closest being a 56-51 victory over Texas Tech on Feb. 18. The game between the teams exactly a month earlier went to Baylor 72-64. But, at the Big 12 tourney, Baylor pounded Tech 72-48.

33. She put it best: Florida played well against Baylor in an NCAA second-round game but still lost 76-57.

Gators coach Amanda Butler said afterward that, with Baylor having scoring threats at all five positions on the court, "You're getting into the realm of the unbeatable there."

Indeed, that's how it played out this season.

34. Big 12 champ: In Kansas City, Baylor won its fourth Big 12 tournament title and had the largest margin of victory -- 23 points -- of any of the league finals as it crushed Texas A&M. Baylor tied Oklahoma for most Big 12 tournament crowns.

35. Relocating: In 2013, the Big 12 will separate its men's and women's tournaments for the first time; the men will stay in Kansas City, and the women will go to Dallas. Which means a pretty short drive for Baylor women's fans from Waco. It will be an even shorter trip for the NCAA early-round games in 2013; Baylor is one of the host sites.

36. Previous champs: Some members of Baylor's first NCAA title team, 2005, were on hand for Tuesday's title game, including standout Sophia Young, who is with the San Antonio Silver Stars.

"The opportunity we had to win a national championship helped open the door for Baylor to bring in great players like Brittney Griner," Young said in the victorious locker room at the Pepsi Center. "It's a great experience to be here today and witness this championship."

As for Griner's pro future in 2013, Young smiled and said, "I'm actually hoping she plays on my team. But I'll be excited to go against the challenge if I do have to face her."

37. Going out in style: Baylor loses three seniors in Terran Condrey, Ashley Field and Lindsay Palmer. Condrey was able to have an important impact at the Final Four with her 13 points against Stanford in the semifinals. Her teammates said her ability to make clutch baskets is why she earned the nickname, "Big-Shot T."

"She's been key to us winning big games," Sims said. "She stepped up like a senior should."

38. Griner's legacy: The big girl has another year in college, but Mulkey said she already knows how she'll talk about Griner when she's gone.

"The thing I'll tell people is, 'That child brought her lunch pail to work every day,'" Mulkey said. "She never had a bad day in practice."

39. Dancing Bears: Mulkey said of the expected celebrations that will go on for a while for fans in Waco: "You know, at Baylor, they used to not let the Baptists dance. I bet they're dancing now."

40. Looking ahead: Baylor returns all five starters next year and seems certain to start 2012-13 as preseason No. 1.

"We have to embrace it," Mulkey said. "If we lose two, three, four, five ... if we go 30-10, I don't care. I want to be in New Orleans."

That's the site of next year's Women's Final Four, and Mulkey is a Louisiana native.

"That's my home state, and I won't have enough tickets for family," she said. "But I'll do something to get them in the arena. That's what we want, another national championship."

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.