Baylor coach Kim Mulkey is already talking about the NCAA Final Four – the one two years from now in Dallas, about 100 miles from the Waco campus.
The Lady Bears, in the Sweet 16 for the seventh year in a row, still have a chance to make it to Tampa this year. There is always Indianapolis next season, too.
“I think the older you are, the more experience you have, those teams usually are the ones that make it to the Final Four,” Mulkey said. “I’ve said it many times. I don’t count this team out, but I still think we’re young. And I think in a year or two, watch out.”
With only one senior and three sophomore starters, including Big 12 player of the year Nina Davis, the Lady Bears (32-3) this season won their fifth straight Big 12 regular season and conference titles. They swept through the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament at home, with lopsided wins over Northwestern State and Arkansas.
“To watch them do what they’re doing right now, at the age they are, it’s going to be fun if they stay healthy the next two years, because then you add Alexis Jones to the mix,” Mulkey said of the Duke transfer. “You’ve got her for two years, and then you add those five big recruits – 6-5, 6-5, 6-4, 5-8, 5-8 – and the Final Four is in Dallas in two years. I hope I’m still coaching by then.”
Baylor, the No. 2 seed in the Oklahoma City Regional, plays No. 3 seed Iowa (26-7) on Friday night.
The Lady Bears won the Big 12 tournament last season in Oklahoma City, but lost a physical Sweet 16 matchup against Louisville two years ago in three-time All-American center Brittney Griner’s last game.
Top-seeded Notre Dame (33-2) plays No. 4 seed Stanford (26-9) in the other Oklahoma City game Friday night. The Lady Bears lost to Notre Dame in last year’s regional final, that game on the Fighting Irish’s home court.
Mulkey has two national championships in her 15 seasons at Baylor, after winning titles as a player and assistant coach at Louisiana Tech.
Duke transfer Jones started all 64 games she played there the last two seasons before tearing the ACL in her left knee. An All-ACC pick by coaches as a sophomore after earning league tournament MVP as a freshman, the 5-8 guard averaged 11.1 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.9 steals for the Blue Demons.
Jones is from MacArthur High in Irving, Texas, the same school as former Lady Bears point guard Odyssey Sims, a two-time All-American.
Baylor’s signing class for next season includes two McDonald’s All-Americans – 6-5 Kalani Brown and 6-4 Beatrice Mompremier – another 6-4 post and two standout guards.
Sims left Baylor as the career assists leader with 641, a record junior guard Niya Johnson matched with her 12 assists against Arkansas.
Johnson’s 296 assists this season are a Big 12 record and she is the national leader with 8.5 per game. She was mentored the past two seasons by Sims, who took on more of a scoring role last year after the departure of Griner.
Johnson had 17 assists without a turnover in one game.
“She’s just able to see things that we’re unable to see. She sees things before they happen, and she just makes the game that much easier,” said Davis, the undersized 5-11 post who averages 20.9 points and 8.3 rebounds. “Most of the time, (the pass) is perfect and right on point, and she just helps everybody to get easy shots.”