A new experience for those on the current roster, Baylor enjoys its time in the Final Four.
TAMPA, FL — March Madness is a cruel mistress, one that rejects those who, presumingly, deserve to be put on the big stage for all to see. Every season, at least one team that “deserves” to be amongst the last standing misses out, falling to the hands of another suitor who feels just as deserving.
Baylor, perhaps more than any other program, has been the one left on the curbside, facing the heartbreak of rejection.
A nearly perfect season, however, has broken that streak.
Coming in at a crisp 35-1, Baylor is back in the Final Four for the first time since their perfect season of 2011-12, and the players are reveling in it.
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“I’m happy. I couldn’t be happier,” said senior Kalani Brown. “I’m just excited to be here.”
Chloe Jackson, the grad transfer from LSU who came to Baylor with the intentions of reaching the grand stage, echoed those same sentiments.
“I would say it’s been a dream come true, just like I couldn’t have written a better story, honestly. Came here, wanted to win, to get to a Final Four. We achieved that. We won the Big 12, got to a Final Four,” Jackson said. “We’re not content. Just want to keep pushing, stay focused to win a championship.”
In order to keep the dream alive, Baylor will have to go through the offensive juggernaut that is Oregon, who are themselves experiencing the Final Four for the first time ever. The Lady Bears, however, have proven to be excellent on both sides of the ball, post play not included.
“I think you start with Chloe Jackson and her unselfishness. Chloe can score the ball and does score for us. Chloe has a knack to get everybody else involved,” said head coach Kim Mulkey. “Then DiDi and Juicy can relieve her when she needs a breather or when she’s trapped and they throw it to one of the wing players. They can bring the ball up the floor for us.”
Beyond just the “Big 3”, Mulkey also feels very good about her freshman, especially Didi Richards.
“She is the light in our locker room, on the floor. She keeps everything light, but yet serious because of how she plays. She plays so hard. She’s just got personality plus,” said Mulkey about the first-year player from Cypress, Texas. “You talk about her basketball on the floor, she and Lauren Cox are our defensive stoppers. We go as those kids go on the defensive end. Now, a lot of people want to talk about her being an offensive liability. If you saw the last three or four games, I don’t think you’d say that any more. She has a knack for cutting to the basket, getting offensive boards, a knack for leaking out in transition. Our posts have played with her so much now that they know they can find her.”
“She is just pleasant, vocal, prissy, girly. That’s DiDi.”
Indisputably, Baylor comes into this Final Four playing better than any of the other three. Tomorrow night we see if they are able to extend their stay one more night.
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