WACO (AP) – Baylor coach Kim Mulkey laughed at the idea. Then, after giving it a little thought, declared herself the winner of a mythical NCAA women’s tournament in which coaches played 1-on-1 to determine the winner of each round.
Like her Lady Bears, who are four games away from winning a second straight national championship, Mulkey feels she’d be a heavy favorite to win a coach versus coach tourney as well.
She might have a tougher time than Baylor, as there would be some really stiff competition from LSU’s Nikki Caldwell and South Carolina’s Dawn Staley, who had stellar playing careers. For once, Geno Auriemma (UConn) and Tara VanDerveer (Stanford) might not be the favorites to make the Final Four.
In fact, it might be tough for them to even make it out of the first round.
“Bring me the biggest, slowest, tallest, whichever one you want, I’d make them have to guard me outside the paint,” Mulkey said. “And then defending the biggest, tallest, strongest, I’d take charges on them all day. I wouldn’t let them back me down there.”
The Associated Press threw out the scenario of a 1-on-1 hoops tournament to coaches from around the country — essentially forcing them to rate each other as players.
Many paused for a minute from their game preparations to entertain the notion. Always analytical, they tried to come up with reasons to pick their favorites. Mulkey, Staley and Caldwell were the overwhelming top choices, while Auriemma and VanDerveer didn’t get much support.
“I’m going to be competitive and I’m going to do whatever I can. I was that type of player and probably still am if I was out there,” Caldwell said. “Just coming from a program, where I went to Tennessee, if you’re coming to the dance, let’s dance. So if there’s a 1-on-1 tournament, let’s go.”
Gender didn’t even factor in coming up with favorites.
“You don’t even need to mention the male coaches. None of them had any careers,” Mulkey said laughing. “Name me one male coach that was any good in college basketball. Can you think of any?”
Maybe Mulkey is lucky that Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves wasn’t on her side of the bracket. The 6-foot-5 Graves played college basketball at New Mexico.
“I’d figure out a way to compete,” she said. “I’d be the one getting on their last nerve.”
Auriemma, who played in high school and junior college, might have to employ the same strategy.
“I would really like to know what kind of player Coach A was,” said former UConn star and current broadcaster Rebecca Lobo. “On occasion, he would grab the ball and demonstrate what he wanted the guards to do and he looked a bit silly when dribbling. My guess is that he wouldn’t stay on the court too long. … His mouth would get him T’d and tossed pretty quickly.”
Unlike Auriemma, Mulkey had quite the playing career at Louisiana Tech, helping guide the team to the first NCAA championship in 1982.
Mulkey’s own players differ on how their fiery coach would do. Brittney Griner agrees with her coach thinking she’d win the title. Point guard Odyssey Sims had a different view.
“I don’t think coach Mulkey is going to make it very far,” Sims said laughing. “She doesn’t play any defense, so I’m going to say — I’ll give her one or two, then she’s going home. If you can do all the scoring and you’re playing no defense, then it defeats the purpose.”
Prairie View A&M coach Toyelle Wilson liked her chances against Mulkey in the opening round. Her team lost by 42 to Baylor to start the NCAAs. It was easy for her to come up with a strategy against Mulkey, since she wouldn’t have to worry about facing Griner.
“I’d be digging on her and pressuring her and hopefully forcing her to take some fadeaway shots, kind of like how Brittney (Griner) makes people take those type of shots,” Wilson said.
Wilson doesn’t believe Mulkey’s claim that she can’t “shoot a lick.”
“I think that’s some sort of trickery that she’s putting up and making me stay off her so she can take some set shots,” said Wilson who played at Manhattan College. “I would start out pressuring her, just like she teaches her players.”
Staley was a star at Virginia before going on to the ABL and WNBA. She also helped the U.S. win three Olympic gold medals, including one in 1996 under VanDerveer.
VanDerveer admitted that the format wouldn’t be the best for her. But always the competitor, she’d be ready if it ever did happen.
“I’m not a 1-on-1 player,” she said. “Even with the piano, I like duets.”
Cal Poly coach Faith Mimnaugh was a great player for Loyola of Chicago in the early `80s. She still is in the NCAA top 10 in assists for a single season.
Mimnaugh picked Caldwell to advance from her region and if Caldwell were to meet Mulkey, who beat Mimnaugh out for the point guard spot on the 1984 Olympic team, she’d pick the LSU coach.
“Kim Mulkey was a great player, but if she had to go against Nikki, Nikki would throw all of her stuff,” Mimnaugh said, waving her arm like she was ready to block a shot.
Seeding the bracket would be a new challenge for the selection committee.
“We’d need footage of people playing to accurately seed,” selection committee member Kathy Meehan said laughing. “It would certainly spice up the brackets. I’d like to see that.
“Some of our student-athletes would love to see it. They’ll see how much the coach’s demeanor as a player carries over to the way they coach.”
(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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