Baylor back in business

Posted: Monday, April 04, 2005

 

  Baylor's Sophia Young, right, drives against Louisiana State's Sylvia Fowles (31) during the first half of a national semifinal game at the NCAA Women's Final Four Sunday, April 3, 2005, in Indianapolis. AP Photo/Michael Conroy

Baylor's Sophia Young, right, drives against Louisiana State's Sylvia Fowles (31) during the first half of a national semifinal game at the NCAA Women's Final Four Sunday, April 3, 2005, in Indianapolis.

AP Photo/Michael Conroy

INDIANAPOLIS — Michigan State's climb to national prominence took the Spartans all the way over Rocky Top.

Down by 16 points in the second half, Michigan State rallied — tying the largest comeback in Final Four history — then finished off Tennessee with a pair of fast-break baskets to complete the 68-64 upset Sunday night. The win sets up Tuesday's title game with Baylor, another unlikely championship contender.

''This team has the heart of a lion,'' Michigan State coach Joanne P. McCallie said, her players bouncing and hugging with wide-eyed looks of disbelief on their faces.

Trailing 45-29 with 16:02 left, Michigan State wouldn't quit and finally caught the Lady Vols at 62-62 on two free throws by Victoria Lucas-Perry with 1:20 left. Moments later, Michigan State point guard Kristin Haynie made a steal and layup to put the Big Ten champions ahead.

Tennessee's Loree Moore then tied it with a runner in the lane, but Spartans senior center Kelli Roehrig scored underneath to make it 66-64 with 35 seconds to play.

The Lady Vols (30-5) then missed a 3-pointer and two inside shots before the ball dropped in the hands of Roehrig, who fed Lucas-Perry for a layup with 2.7 seconds left to complete the remarkable comeback.

The Spartans' last two baskets were their only fast-break points of the night.

Michigan State's rally tied the largest in Final Four history. In 2001, Notre Dame came back from 16 down to beat Connecticut. But the Spartans didn't pull off the night's only jaw-dropping return to life: Baylor had to overcome a 15-point deficit in the game before to take out overall No. 1 seed LSU.

Baylor, whose uplifting tale of redemption is the feel-good story in this tournament, advanced to its first national championship game with a 68-57 victory.

The Spartans (33-3) danced and hugged in a circle as the final horn sounded on their game. McCallie said it wouldn't take long for her to get started preparing for the Lady Bears.

Just four years ago, Michigan State wasn't even among the best teams in its conference. In 2000, McCallie's first year, the Spartans won only 10 games.

But McCallie, the AP's coach of the year this season who turned tiny Maine into a national power, recruited Haynie and Roehrig and got the rest of the Spartans to believe.

Now they're one win away from a national title, something the school's men's team couldn't do this weekend in St. Louis.

By CHUCK SCHOFFNER

AP Sports Writer

INDIANAPOLIS — Baylor's comeback ranked among the best in Final Four history. Its defense was determined and incredibly stingy.

The Lady Bears were simply better — and now the end of their remarkable, uplifting redemption story will be told on the final night of the season In the national championship game.

Baylor got 21 points from Sophia Young and major contributions from Emily Niemann and Abiola Wabara to beat LSU 68-57 Sunday night in an impressive Final Four debut for a program that not long ago was the worst in the Big 12.

''Wow! That's a good team we just beat,'' said coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson, who looked misty-eyed as she pumped two fists up to the roaring Baylor fans.

The Lady Bears (32-3) have brought a new feeling of pride to a campus stained by scandal in the men's basketball program. They'll take a 19-game winning streak — the longest one going in NCAA women's basketball — into the title game Tuesday night, when they meet Michigan State.

LSU (33-3), seeded No. 1 overall in the NCAA tournament, jumped out to an early 15-point lead but the Lady Bears came storming back to tie it at halftime. The Lady Tigers, who looked restless at times on offense, then built a six-point lead in the second half, only to wilt again.

Baylor frustrated LSU to such an extent with its 3-2 zone that only four players scored for the Lady Tigers, who held their own on the boards but still got outscored 32-24 inside. The comeback was the second-largest in a Final Four game. Only Notre Dame, which rallied from 16 down to beat Connecticut in the 2001 semifinals, overcame a larger margin.

Baylor went ahead to stay when Chelsea Whitaker, who had eight turnovers in the regional finals against North Carolina, sank two free throws for a 52-51 lead with 6:17 remaining.

Young then picked off an LSU pass into the post and Baylor capitalized with Wabara's three-point play for a 55-51 lead. When Young hit a jumper 30 seconds later, Baylor led 57-51 and the Lady Bears had the cushion they needed.

Not even national player of the year Seimone Augustus could save LSU, which got to within six in the final 90 seconds, then missed two shots, bricked a free throw and turned the ball over on its last four possessions.

Baylor has been reeling from the death of men's player Patrick Dennehy, who had been missing for six weeks before his body was found a few miles from campus in July 2003. Former player Carlton Dotson was charged in the death and NCAA violations later were uncovered in the program.

Then along came Mulkey-Robertson and her Lady Bears to help set things right at the world's largest Baptist school.

''It's the past so we really don't dwell on it anymore,'' said Young, who had never played basketball before coming to the United States from the West Indies at the age of 15. ''We're just trying to be the shining light for Baylor.''



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