SAN ANTONIO — Their regular-season showdown in January was canceled due to a COVID-19 problem, but women’s basketball titans UConn and Baylor will meet in 2021 after all — at Monday’s NCAA championship River Walk Regional final. And after her team survived a near call Saturday from No. 6 seed Michigan — 78-75 in overtime — Baylor coach Kim Mulkey stated their Elite Eight match will match strength to strength.
“You are looking at two applications that value protection,” Mulkey said. “I think Baylor and UConn are at the top three in the nation in field goal percentage defense. Then you consider rebounding. That might explain to you why the two apps are respected across the country.
“So, yeah, it could be a nasty game. When I say awful, it might be low scoring, it might be some turnovers. Some people wish to say dull. It might not be 80 and 90. I don’t know.”
Coming into Saturday, No. 2 seed Baylor was really first in field goal percent defense (31.7) and No. 1 seed UConn third (32.9), with Alamo Regional No. 1 seed Stanford second at 32.7. In the Sweet 16 victories, Baylor enabled Michigan to shoot 46%, and UConn allowed Iowa to shoot 43.3%.
Baylor went on a COVID-19 dip in January after Mulkey contracted the coronavirus, which is why Geno Auriemma’s Huskies and the Lady Bears did not meet then.
“It has two apps which are very proud,” Mulkey said. “I am surely not planning to outcoach Geno, therefore our players, they better compete and try to outplay his players.
“it’s very tricky to sustain something that is a elite level. You see programs who are Cinderellas, they do this up — and down — you then find the ones that remain sort of in the middle, have good programs. We wish to stay up here and we would like to play for championships.”
UConn has 11 NCAA titles, the latest in 2016, and has attained 12 consecutive Final Fours. This is going to be the second time the teams have met in the NCAA tournament. It seemed as if they’d face off to the NCAA title in 2013, when Baylor was defending champion. However, the Lady Bears were upset that year at the Sweet 16 by Louisville, and UConn won the first of four consecutive championships supporting Breanna Stewart.
The show record is tied 4-4, with the first meeting coming in the 2010 NCAA championship semifinals here at the Alamodome.
Ever since that time, three UConn-Baylor games have been decided by six points or fewer. Three others had 11-point margins. Last season’s 74-58 Baylor success in Hartford, Connecticut, was close — 55-52 throughout three quarters — until the Lady Bears dominated the fourth quarter and outscored the Huskies 19-6.
Defense has played a huge role in Baylor’s successes over UConn. In the Lady Bears’ 68-57 win in January 2019, they held UConn to 29.4percent from the field, the Huskies’ worst shooting percentage in 20 decades. In 2020, the Huskies shot only somewhat worse compared to Baylor: 29.0 percent.
After winning their first two NCAA tournament games this season by 49 and 42 points, Baylor had to sweat out the victory Saturday against a Michigan team making its first appearance in the Sweet 16.
“The deeper you go, the tougher the opponent as well as the tighter the games,” Mulkey said. “I guess that you could say we did enough about the defensive end to win the match in overtime.”
Baylor junior NaLyssa Smith, who tied an NCAA tournament field goal percentage record Saturday by going 11-for-11 on how to 24 points,” said of confronting UConn:”Oh, we are very excited. An opportunity to play a top team is that which we flourish [on] the most.”