TAMPA — The Oregon Ducks outscored the Baylor Lady Bears 36-0 from behind the arc Friday night in the Final Four.
It didn’t matter. Baylor still won by five points.
In 2019, the way Kim Mulkey’s side plays is rare to find in men or women’s basketball. Teams are shooting three-pointers now more than ever, and finding success with it too. In 2018, the teams in the NBA and WNBA who shot the best from three-point range — the Golden State Warriors and Seattle Storm — won the championship. In the men’s game last season, Villanova attempted 975 shots from outside en route to winning their second championship in two years.
“We don’t play that style of ball,” Lady Bears coach Kim Mulkey said.
Why not? It’s pretty simple. None of those teams have what Baylor has: Lauren Cox and Kalani Brown, a pair of All-American post players.
Brown is a 6-foot-7 senior and Cox is a 6-foot-4 junior. Together, they dominate the painted area. Combined, they average 28.9 points, 16.5 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 4.2 blocks per game.
While Oregon tried its luck from deep, Baylor outscored the Ducks 48-20 in the paint and outrebounded them 38-33. Baylor attempted just a trio of 3-pointers all night. In their semifinal win over the Ducks, Cox and Brown combined for 43 points, 18 rebounds, nine assists and four blocks. They dictated the game.
Oregon knocked down 362 three-pointers this year, fourth-most in the country, and connected on a best-in-the-nation 41.5 percent of their attempts. It got them to the Final Four.
But Baylor has gone at least one step further than Oregon this season by doing the exact opposite. The Lady Bears have attempted only 307 shots from 3-point land this season, which ranks as 347th in the country. Baylor gets 11.7 percent of its total points from three-point range, according to Her Hoop Stats, which is last among the 351 teams in women’s Division I college basketball.
“Maybe old school isn’t outdated,” says Chloe Jackson, a graduate transfer guard for the Lady Bears. “We have an old-school type of game and we’re going to just keep pounding to our posts. They really put the team on their back (in the Final Four).”
Jackson had to adjust when she came to Baylor from LSU. As a member of the Lady Tigers last season, she played shooting guard and attempted 96 three-pointers. This year, as a point guard for the Lady Bears, she’s attempted just five shots from behind the arc.
“Here, my focus is just to be the best point guard that I can be,” Jackson said. “The shots in the offense that I can get — I can hit a midrange jumper — so, I’m going to take the best shot for the team. Some people think I can’t shoot the three, but it’s in my bag, I just choose not to shoot it. If I can get the higher-percentage shot, I’m going to always do that.”
So, how has Baylor bucked the 3-point trend and found success? It’s best to let them explain.
Kim Mulkey, head coach: “You change and you run offenses based on what your kids are capable of doing. I've been very blessed at Baylor to have the grinders and the Destiny Williams, the list goes on. I think that's why we get post players, is because people whose daughters are big, they don't want to sit there and rebound and kick a ball out to three-point shooters all night, set screens for three-point shooters all night. I think with the post players, they involve our perimeter players. We don't have to shoot a lot of threes.”
Didi Richards, sophomore guard: “I think we’re successful without the three because we score so efficiently and so consistently. We don’t ever go on scoring droughts. And even if we do, we can play really great defense. If our shots aren’t falling, we can lock down on the other end.”
Nalyssa Smith, freshman forward: “Kalani Brown and Lauren Cox. That’s really the main thing. When your posts can really do everything and they score so many points inside, we don’t have to rely on the three-point game. They’re fantastic. They’re great every night. They really stepped up (in the Final Four).”
Mulkey: “I just believe the sign of a good coach is you got to figure out what your personnel is capable of doing. That's what we're going to do.”
NATIONAL STATS: Individual and team leaders in the 2018-19 season
Kalani Brown, senior forward: “If need be, we have those weapons, people who can take the 3-point shot. We’ve shown that before. But why change anything we’re doing if you have post players who can score the ball at will? But when (defenses) pack it in, we have guards that can really shoot the ball, I think. When you see our numbers, the guards are throwing it inside. That’s what they’re trained to do.”
Chloe Jackson, graduate guard: “We have two All-American post players and then we really don’t have too many shooters, but it’s not really needed. Our post players really dominate the paint. A lot of reporters say ‘old school versus new school,’ but old school won. New school isn’t always the way to go if you have a lot of great post players down there. I think we just play our game and not anybody else’s game.”
Mitchell Northam is a graduate of Salisbury University. His work has been featured at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Orlando Sentinel, SB Nation, FanSided, USA Today and the Delmarva Daily Times. He grew up on Maryland's Eastern Shore and is now based in Durham, N.C.