WACO, TEXAS (AP) - Baylor senior Melissa Jones acknowledged the crowd with a wave and a wide smile after her last victory at home. Together in the locker room, she and her teammates celebrated another trip to the NCAA round of 16.
There was no need for a reminder from their coach that have not yet reached their goals.
“I want the players to enjoy it, and I like their mindset in that we’ve been here now, and some of us have been to a Final Four and got a little taste of that. They want to get back there,” coach Kim Mulkey said. “It’s kind of like a business approach right now with this team, and I like that.”
The top-seeded Lady Bears (33-2) will play in the round of 16 for the third straight season, and the sixth time in eight years, after an 82-64 victory over West Virginia made them 21-0 at home this season.
While there are no more games this season in the Ferrell Center, the Lady Bears don’t have to go far for their next game in the Dallas Regional. The Big 12 champions will play only about 100 miles away from their campus against fifth-seeded Wisconsin-Green Bay (34-1) on Sunday night.
“Going back home, that means a lot just to know we’re still going to have a lot of fans,” said freshman point guard Odyssey Sims, one of three Baylor players from the Dallas-Fort Worth area. “Our Baylor fans, they love us. They’ll be there. And I have a lot of family there.”
In the first game Sunday in Dallas, second-seeded Texas A&M (29-5) plays Georgia (23-10). That leads to the possibility of Baylor facing the Big 12 runner-up Aggies for a fourth time this season _ the Lady Bears won the first three meetings by a combined 15 points _ if both win to get to the regional final.
First, the Lady Bears have to face Green Bay, which has a 25-game winning streak after its 65-56 victory over Michigan State. That prevented a rematch with the Spartans, who in their only previous games against Baylor lost by 22 points in the 2005 national championship game and by 26 in Waco earlier this season.
Baylor, a Final Four team last season, has never played Wisconsin-Green Bay.
“I know they’ve only lost one basketball game and I know that they’ve beaten some good teams,” Mulkey said. “I have not watched much film on them this year, but we will. … When you’ve only lost one game, that gets your attention.”
There is plenty for Green Bay to prep for, too.
Brittney Griner, Baylor’s 6-foot-8 sophomore standout, is coming off a 30-point, eight-block performance against West Virginia (24-10) even after she sat on the bench with two fouls for the final 9:20 of the first half.
Jones, improving but still without full vision in her right eye after hitting her head diving for a loose ball last month, had 13 points and six rebounds. Sims scored 13 points while Destiny Williams, another imposing post player, had 10 points on 5-of-5 shooting with nine rebounds.
Griner had 10 points and Baylor had a 14-point lead when she committed her second foul. But the Mountaineers were only able to trim their deficit to 11 before Griner returned in the second half.
“She just does so many things that not many people are capable of doing. We’re so blessed to have her on our team,” Jones said. “We missed having her on the court, but the girls did a good job.”
The Lady Bears opened the NCAA tournament with a 66-30 victory over Prairie View, holding the SWAC champions to only eight points in the first half _ the fewest ever scored in any half of an NCAA women’s tournament game.
When Mulkey arrived in 2000, Baylor was the last-place team in the Big 12, coming off a seven-win season and had never been to the NCAA tournament.
That changed her first season, the only time the Lady Bears failed to win a first-round game. They made it to the second round the following season and were in the NIT finals in 2003. They started their current run of eight consecutive NCAA tournament appearances by getting to the round of 16 for the first time in 2004.
“We don’t ever take a Sweet 16 for granted. I told the team after the game I remember the first Sweet 16 this program ever went to, how excited we were,” Mulkey said. “While we’re extremely excited in that locker room and we don’t take these things for granted, this team has a bigger mission and a bigger goal.”
Two wins down, four to go.
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