It’s official: Baylor is your 2019 champion! For the third time in program history, the Bears are queens of the women’s college basketball world, and head coach Kim Mulkey has become the third coach in the sport’s existence to win three or more national championships as a head coach.
It couldn’t have been much closer, though. It was a roller coaster of a game and a fantastic way to send off the season. Let’s break down how it happened:
Wow. Wow, wow, wow. How many tough shots can one girl make? Baylor guard Chloe Jackson went 13-of-25 and scored 26 points, and she did it without attempting a single three. Jackson drilled mid-range jumpers and long two pointers from all over the floor the entire game, and to shoot roughly 50 percent on the shots she was taking is absurd. Some were open, but plenty weren’t, then add in the circumstances and you see how tough of a showing the makeshift point guard had.
Jackson also had five assists, four of which went to center Kalani Brown. Her entries into the post were also extremely important for Baylor, and Jackson was responsible for many more points than the 26 she puts in the bucket herself.
When Baylor needed a basket in the final minute of the game, Mulkey gave Jackson a high ball screen and let her do her thing, and she came through for her coach. Throughout the entire fourth quarter when forward Lauren Cox was out with an injury and Notre Dame was scoring at will, mounting a furious come back, Jackson came up with a couple big-time buckets Baylor needed to keep up. Her performance was legendary and not one Waco will ever forget.
Brown and Cox are a mismatch for everyone
Per usual, when Brown or Cox had the ball in the paint, it was almost always two points. Cox didn’t even have that great of a scoring night before she went out with a serious injury late in the third quarter, but she still tallied eight points and eight rebounds, not to mention the three blocks she registered on the defensive end. She brings a lot more to the table simply by being on the floor, which draws the defense to her and opens up space for players like Jackson to hit from the mid-range.
Brown did play the full game, and other than a handful of minutes late in the game during Notre Dame’s run where she wasn’t on the block as much as she should have been, she was excellent. Like always, she was very efficient, shooting 10-of-16 from the floor for 20 points and nabbed 13 boards, six of which were offensive and led to bonus opportunities for the Bears. Almost every shot she made was right by the basket, and Notre Dame didn’t have an answer for her. None of the Irish could keep her off the block, and none of them could really contest her shots like you’d hope. All they could do was throw bodies at her and pray it threw her off just enough. In almost every instance, it didn’t. Brown is fortunate her 0-of-5 mark from the free-throw line didn’t come back to haunt the Bears, but she was otherwise fantastic and instrumental to Baylor’s win.
Baylor’s post threats opened up the rest of the floor
When you have to commit so many resources to the paint in a desperate effort to slow Brown and Cox down, you will inevitably leave shooters open, especially with the actions Baylor runs to get mid-range jumpers. The Bears weren’t often concerned with the deep ball, going 2-of-7 from three for the night. Sixteen of Baylor’s 39 made shots were two-point jumpers, a staggering number in the modern game, and the Bears took 37. That’s remarkably efficient, and many contemporary minds would tell you that’s a mistake.
The reason it works is Baylor’s inside presence. Opponents have to put so much energy into defending down low that it leaves openings for catch and release jumpers inside the arc. It’s an easier pass for an interior player to make, and an easier shot than a three. Basically everyone in Baylor’s rotation can make them, and the team undoubtedly works hard on them in practice.
Mid-range jumpers are bad shots for most players and teams, especially taking 37 in a game. But with Baylor’s personnel and strategy, those become good secondary looks when a bucket isn’t coming at the rim.
Notre Dame did what Notre Dame does
It has happened multiple times before, and it happened again Sunday. The Irish went down early but stormed back late with a barrage of points raining down on its opposition at a level most teams can’t handle. It happened in last year’s national championship, it happened in the Elite Eight and in the Final Four, and none of those teams could overcome Notre Dame’s offensive explosion in the final stretches of those games.
Baylor did, but only just barely. We were one free throw away from a potential overtime, and who knows what happens if Baylor has to play another five minutes with Cox on the sideline in a heavy knee brace.
Multiple times in the third quarter, Baylor extended the lead to 14, and the Bears led 62-48 with 1:42 remaining in the period after a tip-in from Brown. Shortly after, Cox went down with her injury, and the entire game changed from there.
Now the paint began to open up for Notre Dame offensively more than at any other point in the game, and the Irish were attacking and attacking aggressively. That also created space on the perimeter that guards Marina Mabrey and Arike Ogunbowale took advantage of. They drilled four threes after Cox went out, with Mabrey making three in the fourth quarter, and helped spark the furious comeback that had the game knotted at 74 with 5:18 to go in the final period.
Notre Dame scored 26 points in six minutes and 24 seconds, and all in all, the Irish put up 33 points in the game’s final 11 ½ minutes. We’ve come to expect that kind of absurd burst of buckets from Notre Dame, and hats off to Baylor for weathering the storm just enough to emerge victorious.