- Associated Press - Friday, March 21, 2014

WACO, Texas (AP) - If Kim Mulkey doesn’t like how Baylor is playing in its first-round NCAA tournament game, the Lady Bears coach might head out the back door and pull weeds.

Mulkey will be at her house Saturday instead of on the sideline at the Ferrell Center. She will serve a one-game NCAA suspension for criticizing the officiating after the then-defending national champion Lady Bears' upset loss to Louisville in a very physical Sweet Sixteen game last March.

“I’m suspended, I don’t regret being suspended. I’m going to fight for my team, and that’s why I’m suspended,” said Mulkey, strongly adding that she would prefer the focus being on the game and players instead of her absence.

Big 12 champion Baylor (29-4), a No. 2 seed and hosting NCAA tournament games for the third time in four years, plays Sun Belt Conference winner Western Kentucky (24-8).

The other first-round Notre Dame regional game at Waco has No. 7 seed California (21-9), a Final Four team last season, taking on Fordham (25-7). The Atlantic 10 champ Rams are in their first NCAA tournament in 20 years, and only six years removed from an 0-29 season.

Baylor senior guard Odyssey Sims, the nation’s second-leading scorer at 28.4 points per game, knows it will be different without Mulkey.

“We’ll need to step up a lot more, do whatever we’ve done before,” Sims said. “I think we’ll handle it just fine.”

Mulkey took part in all practices leading up to the game, but plans to be in front of the TV on Saturday with a big plate of food.

“I’m not nervous about it, I’m not uptight about it,” said Mulkey, who could go into her yard if things get uneasy. “I’m very confident in everybody that will be in that locker room and everybody on that floor.”

Mulkey also missed the 2009 NCAA opener after surgery to remove a kidney stone. Then-associate coach Leon Barmore was in charge for an overtime victory over No. 15 seed Texas-San Antonio.

“The first time I missed … I was sick, so I was pretty medicated,” she said. “It wasn’t a big deal.”

Associate head coach Bill Brock, in his 11th season over two stints on Mulkey’s staff, fills in Saturday. There are two other former head coaches on the staff.

“Coach Brock is probably not quiet as,” senior guard Makenzie Robertson said, pausing to glance at Mulkey on her left before continuing, “as crazy as my mom. But he has the intensity and competitiveness, and he knows how to reach out to us as players.”

Here are five things to watch Saturday in Waco:

SCORING, REBOUNDING, DISHING: Only three players in the country average at least 14 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists. Two of them go head-to-head - Cal junior Brittany Boyd and Fordham senior Erin Rooney. “I’m excited to play against someone putting up the same numbers as me,” Boyd said. Like Boyd, who her coach called the Golden Bears' most improved player, Rooney was quick to credit her teammates.

FORDHAM FAN ANY OTHER TIME: California coach Lindsay Gottlieb grew up 25 miles north of Fordham, watching the Rams play and even going to camps on the Bronx campus as a kid. “Just from afar watching their success, I’ve been happy for them,” Gottlieb said. “Obviously now we’d like to end it this year, but just a lot of respect for what they’ve done and how they’ve built it.”

PAST SUCCESS: Western Kentucky carries a 10-game winning streak into its first NCAA tourney appearance in six seasons. The Lady Toppers play host Baylor, which has won first-round NCAA games the last 10 seasons, a stretch including two national titles. “Western Kentucky has some trophies too … it’s been a while,” said Michelle-Clark Heard, who was part of four NCAA tourneys as a player at WKU (1987-90). The Lady Toppers made Final Four appearances in 1985, 1986 and 1992.

QUICK TURN: When Stephanie Gaitley interviewed for the Fordham job two years ago, the school president asked how long it would take before the Rams would be a team that people would respect. Her response? “Year 3, I think we can gain respect.” Now they are in the NCAA tourney for only the second time in school history. “Never in my wildest dreams would it happen so quickly, in year two,” she said Friday.

HOME COURT ADVANTAGE: Baylor lost at home only twice in the last four seasons, though both of those setbacks were this year - against defending national champ UConn in mid-January and to West Virginia in their last home game. The Lady Bears are 5-1 in NCAA home games, the lone loss to Drake in a second-round game in 2002.

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