Championship game rematches can be some of the most exciting games of the season. But this early season rematch may be one of the most anticipated all year.
Tomorrow night, No. 3 Baylor will face off with No. 5 Notre Dame in a rematch of the 2012 NCAA Championship game when the Lady Bears stole the championship from the Fighting Irish with an 80-61 victory to complete their 40-0 season.
Although the win last year was a huge accomplishment for the Lady Bears, head coach Kim Mulkey says not much attention will be paid to last year’s game as she prepares for tomorrow’s. She said she will gather information from the game and use bits and pieces from it, but will mainly focus on this year’s team. Her star player agrees.
“We definitely look at the [championship] game,” Baylor post Brittney Griner said. “We did some good stuff in that game, but we’re a new team this year, they’re a new team this year. But you definitely can look back at the film and see where we did good and where we did bad and how we can correct it.”
After the announcement that the Fighting Irish football team will be playing for the BCS National Championship, Notre Dame’s athletic program has been riding a high, and the Lady Bears fully welcome the excess energy and electric atmosphere at tomorrow night’s game.
“Their game’s sold out, so it will definitely be loud in there, and it’s the kind of atmosphere you want to play in,” Griner said. “You want to go to a sold out gym and play, so we’re looking forward to it.”
But the Lady Bears know it won’t be all fun and games, and the win may be harder to come by tomorrow than it was in April. One thing Baylor is preparing for is the new offense that currently relies less on Notre Dame’s star senior guard, Skylar Diggins, and instead plays a more balanced offense.
“I look at the fact that…the points are distributed equally,” forward Destiny Williams said. “There’s not one player that scores all their points, and so you see that Skyler [Diggins] is trying to pass the ball more and get her teammates more involved to make it easier for herself. We just have to defend everybody equally because they all can attack and all can finish.”
The 5-0 Fighting Irish currently have four players averaging double-digit points per game, validating Williams’ concerns. They are led by junior guard Kayla McBride, who is currently averaging 14.6 points a game, followed by Diggins with 14 a game, junior Natalie Achonwa with 13.6 and the explosive freshman Jewell Loyd who registers 12.6 points per game.
“We played well enough to win by a large margin in the championship game, but guys, we made a lot of mistakes on the defensive end, and it wasn’t a lack of effort, it was just their ability to execute what they do,” Mulkey said about the powerful Notre Dame offense.
Luckily for Baylor the missing piece of its puzzle, key defender, guard Odyssey Sims, will return against Notre Dame after sitting out four games with a hamstring injury obtained during the team’s loss to Stanford. Before the injury, she averaged 10.7 points per game.
“It’s always good to have [Sims] out there,” Griner said. “Here defense, she gets us going. We see her out there and busting it and we want to do the same. We don’t want to let her down…she definitely gets us going on defense so it’ll be good to see her out there.”
Tomorrow’s game against Notre Dame marks the Lady Bears’ third top-10 matchup of the early season. They face a road-heavy schedule they aren’t quite accustomed to, but are ready to make the most of.
“Here is an opportunity for us to get better,” Mulkey said. “We were 40-0 last year, but a lot of those games were at home…but regardless of the outcome, it will make us better later in the season and during Big 12 play.” -- Savannah Pullin