TAMPA, Fla. (CBSDFW.COM/AP) — Kim Mulkey rejects the notion that being the No. 1 overall seed makes Baylor the team to beat in the women’s Final Four.
The Lady Bears (35-1), who are riding a 27-game winning streak and have trounced four opponents in the NCAA Tournament by an average of 38 points, face Final Four newcomer Oregon (33-4) in Friday’s national semifinals.
The winner advances to Sunday’s championship against either UConn or Notre Dame.
Mulkey, who’s won titles as a player and an assistant coach at Louisiana Tech in addition to guiding Baylor to a pair of NCAA crowns, said it would be a mistake to assume the Lady Bears are clearcut favorites.
“We don’t approach it like: ‘Oh, wow, we’re the No. 1 seed, we’re supposed to win.’ According to a lot of people, we’re not supposed to win,” Mulkey said.
“We’re going to fight. We’re going to claw. We’re going to compete. We’re going to give it our best shot,” she added. “I’m sure the other three teams are going to do the same thing.”
Oregon promises as much.
Led by All-American point guard Sabrina Ionescu, the Ducks are in the Final Four for the first time after upsetting another No. 1 seed, Mississippi State, in the Elite Eight.
“We’re honored and humbled to be here, but I think we all know we don’t want to go home tomorrow,” Ionescu said after practice Thursday at Amalie Arena. “We didn’t just come here to enjoy the experience. We came here to win some more basketball games.”
Baylor is back in the Final Four for the time since 2012, when it finished a 40-0 season and captured its second national title.
The Lady Bears are led by an imposing frontcourt featuring 6-foot-4 Lauren Cox and 6-7 Kalani Brown and use their size to dominate on both ends of the floor.
Oregon, meanwhile, plays a contrasting perimeter-oriented style that coach Kelly Graves acknowledged has prompted some people to call the Ducks the Golden State Warriors of women’s college basketball.
“Steph Curry gave Sabrina quite a shout out yesterday, I thought that was really cool,” Graves said. “You know what, yeah, she’s a lot like Steph, how he’s a conductor, is always a threat to make a huge play, make those 3-pointers.”
Baylor’s Caitlin Bickle said “they’re calling it new school versus old school.”
“We work from the inside out, and I think they work from outside in,” Bickle added. “So we’re just kind of opposite.”
Mulkey said teams generally play do whatever they feel is necessary to be successful.
“You play to your personnel,” the Baylor coach said.
“I guess you could call me old, if you want to. You can call me old-fashioned. I’m good with all of it,” Mulkey added. “I just play to win.”
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)