DENVER — As the final seconds ran off the clock in the 2012 NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship game, Baylor fans began to chant “undefeated-undefeated-undefeated” and head coach Kim Mulkey started to cry.
They were tears of joy.
The Lady Bears had accomplished what they set out to do at the beginning of the season — raise the NCAA trophy high above their heads and earn the title of national champions. They did it with an 80-61 victory against Notre Dame on Tuesday night.
“We finally did it,” National Player of the Year Brittney Griner said. “Unfinished business is over.”
Every year one team is crowned “champion”, but Baylor’s history-making run will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest.
From the start, when the Lady Bears were donned preseason No. 1 last fall, Mulkey challenged her team to meet expectations.
“We embraced it, and we lived up to it,” Mulkey said. “Sports is an interesting profession. You can embrace being thought about as being a dominant team, or you can shy away from it. You can’t hide the talent in that locker room that I get to coach.
“I couldn’t walk in the locker room and hoodwink them and tell them we don’t have those expectations; you’re not that good, you’re one of many, because, truthfully, we’re pretty special.”
The talent is undeniable. Griner, sophomore point guard Odyssey Sims, junior forward Destiny Williams are the headliners, but the Lady Bears’ supporting cast has stepped up over and over whenever needed.
Griner – the six-foot-eight phenom — made her mark as maybe the best post player the women’s game has ever seen. She poured in 26 points and grabbed 13 rebounds against the Irish, leaving no doubts to her place in women’s basketball history.
“As a post player she’s the best I’ve ever seen,” Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said.
“Brittney Griner, whether she won today or not, will go down in the history of the women’s game if not the greatest post player, one of the greatest,” Mulkey said. “I’m so glad that she has that ring now.”
For Mulkey, it is her fourth NCAA championship ring. It was her second NCAA title as a head coach, also guiding Baylor to the championship in 2005. As a player at Louisiana Tech, Mulkey was a member of the 1982 NCAA Championship team, and then was an assistant coach at her alma mater when the Lady Techsters captured the 1988 title.
“I’ve done this since I was 18 years old,” Mulkey said. “I’ve played for national championships. I’ve won Olympic gold medals. I know what it feels like.”
Now, her joy is coaching her players to that defining moment in their careers.
“It’s not about me. I’ve been around some of the best in the business. But my joy in coaching is for the people who have never had the opportunity to experience what I have.”
At halftime of the game, the NCAA celebrated the 40th anniversary of Title IX — groundbreaking legislation in 1972 that opened doors for women’s athletics. It was fitting that the night was capped off with the first basketball team — men’s or women’s — to go 40-0 in a season.
“It will mean something to me and to all of them when they’re through with their collegiate career and we’ll think back on what we accomplished, who we played to go 40-0.”
But 40-0 is something the Lady Bears will reflect on well into the future. Right now, they will relish in the title of “National Champions.”