If you’re familiar with Notre Dame’s women’s basketball team, and you watched the Sunday night national title game, then you are likely feeling a little bit confused right now. And you’re not alone. Baylor’s women’s basketball team beat Notre Dame in a historic final with a score of 82-81. In sports, we love to see close games like this. Blowouts make us feel like one of the teams shouldn’t have even been in the finals, but when the game is down to the wire, we know that the right teams were playing. The interesting part about Sunday’s game is maybe not the win itself, but how Baylor won. They did this by spacing the floor with perimeter shooters, in order to hit a ton of
This was Baylor’s third national title in program history and they did it by deemphasizing outside shooting and really just giving it to their opponents in the paint. During Sunday night’s game, they only missed 2, 3-point shots, which means they hit two more 3s than they hit in their national semifinal victory over Oregon and one more each than they made during their wins against Iowa and South Carolina in the Elite Eight and Sweet 16. But this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.
While this might sound fantastic, I really need to put it into perspective for you. The Bears are 347th out of 351 Division I teams in 3-pointers attempted this season. In fact, they have gone three games (which they won) without even making one single 3-point shot. So how do you go from that, to winning a championship final based on 3-pointers alone? The obvious answer is Baylor Coach Kim Mulkey who has always attracted and emphasized top, low post talent. This includes Sophia Young and Brittany Griner, and many of the Bears’ current players. But this year’s team is anchored by a pair of old-school frontcourt players who score efficiently around the basket because they’re taller, and more skilled than any other opposing duo.
Kalani Brown is an elite back-to-the-basket scorer and shot blocker, who stands at 6’7″. She is a
All that said, the Bears still had to get creative on Sunday in order to survive. When NaLyssa Smith fouled out, Mulkey played a four-guard lineup for what she said was the first time all season. Baylor, not known for its perimeter shooting, had to put up shots over a zone defense. The Bears jumped on a poor Notre Dame start to take a 15-5 lead in the first quarter before they controlled much of the night. The game’s tenor changed when Cox fell under Notre Dame’s basket with 1:22 to play in the third quarter; she grabbed her left knee and rolled around on the court. The arena went quiet, and Mulkey walked over to hold her close before the forward left the court in tears in a wheelchair.
With Cox out in the fourth quarter, it was thought Notre Dame would come out their strongest. Brown added 20 points and 13 rebounds. Smith stepped up for Cox and had 14 points, and with that, the Bears take the championship home with them.