WACO (AP) – Baylor coach Kim Mulkey wanted to see how her team would respond when second-ranked Notre Dame kept chipping away and eventually cut the deficit to a single point.
“I purposely didn’t call the timeout to stop it from bleeding. They’ve got to grow up,” Mulkey said. “We’re at the point now where I can’t fix it. I can put you in position to do certain things. Go out there and fix it yourself.”
The top-ranked Lady Bears did just that, never losing the lead after halftime and going on to a 94-81 victory in the No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup in the preseason WNIT championship game Sunday.
“A year ago, they would have been so down and pointing fingers and griping at it each other,” Mulkey said. “And they worked their way through that.”
Notre Dame, which had trailed by as many as 15 points just before halftime, was within 56-55 when Skylar Diggins made two free throws with 14 minutes left. The Lady Bears (4-0) then responded with a 14-3 run and by time Odyssey Sims turned a steal into a breakaway layup about 5 minutes later, they led 70-58.
Brittney Griner and Baylor have clearly established themselves as the No. 1 team — for now.
Notre Dame (3-1) still has some work to do.
“We didn’t play the kind of defense that we hope to play this year,” coach Muffet McGraw said. “It was a good learning experience. … It’s great that it’s in November, and we can look ahead to what we want to be, and know that we’re not there now. I think we have that promise and we have that vision of our team moving forward, but really disappointed with the loss today.”
Long before being the NCAA runner-up last season, Notre Dame lost another early-season game at Baylor.
McGraw anticipated that the 6-foot-8 Griner would have her way inside against the Irish.
And Griner did, making 14 of 18 shots for 32 points, along with 14 rebounds and six blocked shots. It was her 29th career double-double, the third this season.
“We tried a couple of different looks on her, but it didn’t really matter,” McGraw said. “I was disappointed with the way we guarded the other players”
Destiny Williams also had a double-double for Baylor with 15 points and 13 rebounds while Sims had one of her best overall games after not starting.
Sims had 25 points, six assists, six steals and only two turnovers while playing 38 minutes, even though the sophomore point guard wasn’t in the starting lineup for a reason that Mulkey wouldn’t specify — or allow Sims to address.
“She knows why she didn’t start. Coach’s decision,” Mulkey said. “I had no doubt that she was going to play hard. That bench works wonders. … It was nothing major. I wouldn’t have played her if it was major. It’s a coach and a point guard’s relationship where I’ve got to get her attention.”
Notre Dame had a pair of 25-point scorers in the same game for the first time since 2000. Natalie Novosel scored a career-high 28 points and Skylar Diggins, like Griner a preseason AP All-America pick, had 27.
Baylor and Notre Dame could meet again in March — or April.
The Lady Bears still have two more huge tests before Christmas and their always tough Big 12 schedule after that. They play at No. 3 Tennessee next Sunday and host No. 4 UConn on Dec. 18.
It was Baylor’s second 1 vs. 2 game, but its first as the No. 1 team after losing 65-64 at top-ranked UConn last November. The Irish were in their third such game, the previous two coming against the Huskies in 2001, when Notre Dame lost as the No. 1 team and then won as the No. 2 team.
This was the 47th women’s basketball 1 vs. 2 game. UConn had played in 14 of the past 19 since 1999, winning 12 of them. The Huskies were the No. 1 team, and the winner, in each of the previous five.
“It was a great test for us,” Novosel said. “We know now we’re not where we need to be, and we’re going to move forward and learn some things.”
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