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Mulkey’s Former Coach Watching From Afar

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DENVER (AP) - Kim Mulkey loves to give history lessons.

She’s quick to point out that if her Baylor Lady Bears win the national championship Tuesday night against Notre Dame, they wouldn’t be the first women’s college team to win 40 games in a season.

That honor belongs to her former coach and mentor — Leon Barmore.

The Hall of Famer guided Louisiana Tech to a 40-5 season in 1980. But that was before the NCAA existed and the organization didn’t begin keeping records until the 1982 season.

“We played everybody,” Barmore told The Associated Press by phone Monday while vacationing in Florida. “We weren’t in a conference and played the best teams out there. It was a lot of games. Back then we were all young and the program was growing. I remember us winning a tournament in Vegas, flying to New York a few days later and then winning there too. We played like six games in five or six days.”

After starting out the season with 40 wins in their first 43 games, Barmore’s squad made it to the AIAW Final Four before falling short.

“We ended up losing both games that year in the Final Four,” he said. “That was the last year they played for third place. I remember that game we didn’t really have much to play for. Could you imagine if Stanford played Connecticut tomorrow night?”

The next season Barmore gained a really talented point guard in Mulkey. The pair went on to an undefeated season that year.

“I know we don’t really talk about the old days, but there was a pretty good team that did win 40 games” Mulkey said.

Barmore, who was an assistant at Baylor under Mulkey for the last four years before retiring at the end of last season, hopes his former star guard’s current team joins his 40-win club and not end up like the 1990 Louisiana Tech team. That squad came into the NCAA tournament unbeaten and ended up becoming the only unblemished team to reach the Final Four and lose.

“That one hurt,” Barmore said. “We went undefeated through the regular season and then went to Knoxville and lost to Auburn in the first game.”

Despite not being around the Lady Bears every day anymore, Barmore keeps up with the team and its star, Brittney Griner. He texts Mulkey constantly. He sent her a few congratulatory texts after Sunday night’s gritty 59-47 victory over Stanford.

“They struggled through a tough game last night, wasn’t a pretty game, but they got it done defensively,” Barmore said. “She’s ready to cap this off and I really hope so. It’s been a special year in Waco.”

With a win, Baylor would become the seventh NCAA women’s team to run through a season unbeaten, joining Connecticut — which has done it four times, Tennessee and Texas. It would be the school’s second national championship, having also won a title in 2005.

Barmore plans to watch the game with his family in Florida. He’s been really impressed with the improvement of Griner this season.

“She understands the game,” he said. “If I had to pick out a single thing that she’s improved on, it’s her field goal percentage. She is so smooth now and waiting the right move to the basket offensively.”

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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