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Baylor rallies to shock LSU

BAYLOR 68, LSU 57: A 19-4 run ties it at halftime for the Bears, who oust the overall top seed.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published April 4, 2005


INDIANAPOLIS - Kim Mulkey-Robertson's annual crawfish boil and family reunion will have to wait at least one more day. This time around, Baylor didn't let its business go unfinished.

In a game reminiscent of their season opener against LSU, the Bears fell behind by double digits in the first half of Sunday night's NCAA Tournament national semifinal.

But unlike the first game, Baylor didn't stay down.

By dominating in the paint and holding the nation's best player relatively in check, Baylor rallied to earn a 68-57 upset over No.1 overall seed LSU at the RCA Dome. It was the second-largest deficit overcome in the history of the Women's Final Four.

"We just beat, in my opinion, the most talented team in the country," said Mulkey-Robertson, who will become the first to win a national championship as a player and coach a team in a national title game when the Bears face Michigan State, which beat Tennessee 68-64, on Tuesday.

Early on, it didn't seem plausible that Mulkey-Robertson would utter that sentence. With the score tied at 7, LSU went on a 17-2 run, making it 24-9 on a 3-pointer by Scholanda Hoston with 7:42 left.

Mulkey-Robertson had seen enough.

She called timeout and challenged her players to muster up some pride and get ready to mount a comeback.

"We get down by 15, and I'm looking at my coaches saying we are about to get embarrassed on national television," Mulkey-Robertson said. "I challenged my players, and once again, what warriors they were.

"I don't remember exactly what I said, but I think it had something to do with putting a little fire in your belly. I do remember that I told them you're not going to get it back in one or two possessions."

Instead, Baylor methodically went to work on LSU. The Bears switched from man-to-man to a defense the Baylor coach admittedly doesn't like - a zone. It slowed LSU's transition game and kept the Tigers off the free-throw line.

Trailing by 15, Baylor went on a 19-4 run during the final seven minutes of the half, led by six points in the final 1:25 from Emily Niemann and strong play from forward Sophia Young, who scored eight of her team-high 21 points during the first half.

"I thought I had to step up big-time for my team," Young said. "My teammates did a great job getting me the ball, and I just scored when I had to."

When Chelsea Whittaker hit a layup with four seconds remaining in the half to tie the score at 28, the game had shifted toward Baylor's favor.

"We totally lost the momentum going into halftime," LSU coach Pokey Chatman said. "We basically didn't get it done. We have a quote when we leave our locker room that says, "You don't always get what you want. You get what you earn.' I'm sure our kids wanted to win, but we didn't do a whole lot to go out there and earn it. And I think that Baylor did."

LSU (33-3) regrouped and led by as many as six midway through the second half. But again, Baylor chipped away at the lead. Tied at 51 with 6:17 remaining, the Bears went on an 8-0 run, taking a lead they never relinquished. Baylor was 12-of-14 from the free-throw line during the final 6:17.

Baylor (32-3) outscored LSU 32-24 in the paint and limited the Tigers' transition game, holding them to two fastbreak points. Niemann scored 14 points and Abiola Wabara 12.

Seimone Augustus, the national player of the year, led the Tigers with 22 points but was 10-of-26 from the field. Senior Temeka Johnson scored 14 and freshman center Sylvia Fowles 13.

"You're never happy when you lose, especially when you lose on a stage like this," Augustus said. "I can't see anything right now but anger and frustration."

With the victory, Baylor becomes the first team to reach the national title game in its first trip to the Final Four since Oklahoma in 2002.

It also will enter the final with the fewest tournament wins in program history since Texas Tech in 1993. Sunday's victory was the Bears' eighth, three more than the Red Raiders.