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Game-day guide to the NCAA Women’s Tournament national championship

Baylor and Notre Dame are still standing after a long, thrilling season. Here’s a setup for tonight’s final at Amalie Arena.
Baylor coach Kim Mulkey paces in front of her bench during the game against Oregon on Friday. (MONICA HERNDON | Times)
Published Apr. 7

TAMPA — After a morning practice at Amalie Arena prior to its Women’s Final Four semifinal against Oregon, Baylor coach Kim Mulkey was ready to go. Through the concrete walls and closed door, Mulkey could be heard loud and clear.

“Let’s Rock-n-Roll! Let’s Rock-n-Roll!”

“Coach is always fired up about something,” Baylor junior guard Juicy Landrum said. “Even if it’s not about the game, she’s fired up. She definitely has that sass about her. She’s real and she’s honest about everything.”

Her sass is on full display this weekend.

Unlike Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw, who is a bit more laidback yet no less competitive, Mulkey can be in-your-face. Referees, players, assistant coaches all catch an earful during games.

“She’s just so passionate and so competitive and she hates to lose,” junior forward Lauren Cox said. “That’s how I play. I’m competitive, I can’t stand losing. When she’s over there pumping her fists and getting excited for us, it gives us energy.”

It has certainly worked for Mulkey. She is the first person in NCAA history to win a championship as a player (Louisiana Tech, 1982), assistant coach (Louisiana Tech, 1988) and head coach (Baylor, 2005, 2012).

She played and mentored under another feisty coach, Leon Barmore, at Louisiana Tech. She makes no apologies.

“You wouldn’t believe some of the things that I say to those kids, and they just roll their eyes,” Mulkey said. “I hope that I never, ever have to deal with some of the things coaches are dealing with because they just know Kim is real. She’s real, says some things people are afraid to say. She means no harm. Doesn’t want to offend anybody.”

And when she gets quiet …

“Just seeing her get amped, we build off that,” senior center Kalani Brown said. “When she gets hype, we’re hype. … When she’s getting on you, a lot of people think, ‘Oh, she’s terrible.’ Nah, when she stops talking to you, you should be worried. When she’s quiet, you should be scared.”

Mulkey does have a soft side, however. In 2017, just as the basketball season was starting, her daughter Makenzie gave birth to a stillborn daughter named Scout. In October 2018, Makenzie had a son, Kannon, who is in Tampa to watch his Grandma.

“You bet I’m going to hang onto him,” Mulkey said. “Holding a child up here (in raised arms) is a heck of a lot more touching than holding one right here (by her chest) who’s deceased. I’ve done both in the last year and a half.”

Players have noticed a difference.

“Since she had another grandchild, Coach Mulkey has a soft spot,” Landrum said. “When Kannon’s at practice, she doesn’t yell at us as much.”

At 56, she shows no signs of slowing down. Now in her 19th season, Mulkey is the face of Baylor women’s basketball and shooting for her third national championship.

“I don’t coach to get into Hall of Fames,” Mulkey said. “I don’t coach to get courts named after me. I coach to get a paycheck, I can tell you that. We all want to retire someday.

“But I just want them to be proud of the program. I want them to say that woman does her job.”

RELATED: Baylor keeps reaching new heights ... literally

Notable Notre Dame numbers

Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw watches play during the first half against UConn on Friday. (DIRK SHADD | Times)

If the Fighting Irish beat Baylor today, it will not only be their third national championship in women’s basketball, but also their 1,000th program win. A quick look at other Notre Dame milestones:

3 Coaches who have been at the helm for the Irish since the program began in 1977. Sharon Petro and Mary DiStanislao coached for a combined 10 years before current coach Muffet McGraw took over

2.57 Average losses per year for Notre Dame since beginning its run of Final Four appearances in 2012

24 Years since the Fighting Irish missed the NCAA Tournament. Notre Dame finished 12-17 that season.

32 Seasons McGraw has coached Notre Dame

923 Career wins for McGraw, 835 at Notre Dame. McGraw won 88 games as the head coach at Lehigh, the team the Fighting Irish beat on Dec. 30, 2018, to help McGraw earn win No. 900.

RELATED: Length of the Irish: Notre Dame’s Brianna Turner stands tall

Quick hits

• Notre Dame relies heavily on its five starters. Arike Ogunbowale, Jackie Young, Marina Mabrey, Jessica Shepard and Brianna Turner each scored in double figures in the semifinal against UConn and accounted for all 81 points. They now have 10,151 total career points, which ranks as the most ever in men’s and women’s NCAA basketball.

• Mabrey is Notre Dame’s all-time 3-point record holder with 267 made shots. What does it take to break a record like that? “In the summer I usually shoot 500 shots per day just to keep my form up. It really takes a lot of practice and discipline to shoot like that.”

• Baylor center Kalani Brown and Notre Dame’s Ogunbowale played together on the U.S. under-16 national team. They have been close friends ever since. “We’ve stayed in touch,” Brown said. “I gave her a hug (Friday) night.”

• Baylor has the nation’s longest win streak at 28 games.

She said it

“I think seeing two great coaches with great legacies go at each other (in the final) is the best thing for us as girls. Seeing two women lead alone is pretty much phenomenal for this game and it speaks volumes. I saw Muffet’s statement (about the women’s game needing more women’s coaches) and I thought, ‘Wow, she hit them with the facts and everything.” It was flawless.” — Baylor center Kalani Brown

RELATED: Even in women’s athletics, it can still be a man’s world

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