Greensboro, NC – If there were any doubters left entering tonight’s game, Baylor made an emphatic thesis statement vis-a-vis their No. 1 overall Tournament seed, toppling Iowa 85-53 to advance to the Final Four.
Kim Mulkey’s Bears simply overpowered the Lisa Bluder’s Hawkeyes, getting meaningful contributions from every player who set foot on the court. Iowa never quit, never stopped running the floor hard, never got lazy with their defensive stances. The Hawkeyes simply ran into the same Waco buzzsaw that shredded its three previous tourney foes by a combined 121 points.
“This is who we are … this is our basketball team,” Mulkey said of her team’s dominant performance. “I have two of the greatest post players in the country, and they are so unselfish and wanted it to play together, and there’s no message to be sent. I have said from day one, it’s all about championships.”
Lauren Cox lead Baylor with 22 points and 11 rebounds, while teammates Chloe Jackson and Kalani Brown combined for 28 points and 12 rebounds. The Bear’s most effective player was Didi Richards, who careened furiously around the floor like a sentient pinball while logging 16 points, 10 boards, six assists, and six steals. (An important number for the game: 21. That’s the difference in percentage points between Baylor’s field goal clip and Iowa’s. It’s also how many more rebounds the Lady Bears had than their opponents.)
“I was just overwhelmed, excited, just happy,” Brown said of her team’s victory. “We were just hugging each other. I wasn’t thinking about anything, honestly.”
Jackson was equally euphoric.
“I just felt extremely blessed,” she said. “It was a surreal feeling. Just a lot of excitement.”
Cox, who was awarded the Greensboro Regional Most Outstanding Player Award after the game, said Baylor’s staggering collection of talent is what makes the team so dominant.
“It could have been any one of us, MVP, and it’s just a blessing and I’m just excited,” she said.
When Richards was asked about her tremendous performances in the past two games (she scored 25 against South Carolina on Saturday), she echoed Cox’s sentiments.
“It’s not something you expect, just something that kind of comes,” she said. “But without my teammates I would not be able to do what I do.”
Iowa was led by Megan Gustafson’s 23 points and nine boards, and also got solid contributions from Tania Davis and Kathleen Doyle, who combined for 20 points and eight dimes. Despite those performances, the Hawkeyes finished with .32/.30/.70 shooting splits on the night, which wasn’t going to cut it against a team as dominant as Baylor.
Bluder was fair in her assessment of the game but also proud of what her team accomplished this season.
“Baylor was just obviously too much for us today,” she said. “[But] I told the team that I’m not going to define our season by the last 40 minutes. I don’t think we played our best game … I just wish that we could have shown a little bit more of Iowa Basketball.”
Davis and Gustafson, the two Iowa seniors at the podium, took a broader (and understandably emotional) view in their comments. Davis reflected on the season, her career, and the essence of Iowa basketball.
“I feel like our legacy is just completely different,” she said. “We’re great individuals off the court and I feel like that’s the legacy we’d rather leave, as opposed to, you know, the players that we have.”
Gustafson was also circumspect as she tearfully praised the teammates with whom she has accomplished so much.
“Tania is one of the toughest warriors I know … Hannah (Stewart, another senior), if I had to go to battle with anyone else … I’m just so, so pleased and thankful that the University of Iowa chose me and I chose to play for them,” she said.
That collective ethos enabled the Hawkeyes to cut the lead down to eight points with 3:50 left in the first half, but that was the closest they’d get. Iowa never got within single digits again after a lay-in from Brown pushed it to 25-35 half a minute later. Baylor couldn’t contain Gustafson (no one can), but they swallowed up everything else the Hawkeyes tried to do offensively. Conversely, Iowa did a fantastic job stifling Brown until late in the game, but Cox and the rest of Baylor’s array of versatile talent proved too much to handle.
After the confetti and cutting the nets down, Mulkey was, more than anything else, happy for her team and what they can still accomplish.
“You know, it’s a joy to coach and be around kids and parents who honestly just want their kids to experience what it’s all about,” she said. “And it’s about championships, Final Fours and those types of things.”
The Greensboro All-Regional Team, announced shortly after the buzzer sounded: Richards, Brown, Jackson, Gustafson, and Cox.
Baylor will face Oregon Friday, April 5 in the Final Four in Tampa.