Reviewing the Louisville-Baylor Elite 8 Game

posted by alexrgct

I just rewatched the Sweet 16 matchup between the Cards and the Lady Bears with the thought that if I did so, perhaps it would make more sense the second time around. And the answer was…not really. However, I did have more thoughts this time around, probably because I wasn’t so busy being utterly shocked at what I was watching.

-Baylor’s two losses this past season underscore how unfathomable winning 90 games in a row was for UConn. I’ve said this before, but let me elaborate. At any time, anyone can get injured. UConn had injuries during its 90-game streak, but none that were as impactful as losing Sims early in the Stanford game. Conversely, even if you stay healthy, the odds are simply that at some point, you’ll have one of those nights where you don’t play especially well and your opponent does. To win 90, you have to be so much better than the field that your B- game is better than almost anyone else’s A+ game. Baylor was a good team- a great one, even. A transcendentally great one? No, they weren’t.

-I think Kim Mulkey is a great coach, but I also think she has to take some of the blame for this loss. I’m not going to nitpick her game plan (though I will nitpick her adjustments a bit later), but to me, the real issue this past season is that there was an aura around Baylor that the tournament wasn’t going to be a tournament so much as a coronation. I am 100% confident Kim didn’t foster that aura, but she allowed it. There’s a difference between swagger and over-confidence. The notion that Brittney Griner thought it was OK to tweet at halftime of the previous game, that someone in the athletic department felt it was appropriate to make requests for types of dunks they wanted to see Griner do against Louisville? That’s the kind of stuff that Geno simply would never allow. In fairness, he’s had a ton of practice learning how to repeat. Geno’s best teams play with the swagger of a team that’s been there before and the desire of a team that never has. Baylor had the former, but lacked a bit of its edge from the previous season. That was the difference. And if Kim had to do it all over again, that would be her primary focus.

-Baylor outscored Louisville 30-13 in the final nine minutes of the game. Louisville’s last three-point shot came with 9:04 left. And what’s amazing is how little of the comeback involved Griner. Sims, Pope, Hayden, and Madden were all more prominently involved, and Griner was more a decoy than anything else. The obvious question is whether that should have happened earlier, and could Louisville have adjusted if it had? Another question that will haunt Kim.

-For the season, Baylor was a sub-70% FT shooting team. They were actually above their average in this game (19-26, 73.1%). I mention this only to note that missing those seven FTs was entirely characteristic of Baylor this season…and in a game decided by a single point, that’s kind of important.

-For all of the whining bout Madden’s charge with 31 seconds left, the charge called on Bria Smith with 2:01 left was worse. Hammond may have flopped on contact, but her feet were definitely set. I don’t care what Lobo and Ward said- Pope’s feet were not. That was either a no-call or an and-one. What happened instead was that Bria didn’t get two points, Walz got T’d up, and Baylor got two FTs- a four point swing. Given that Mulkey didn’t get T’d up for her reaction, I’d say she really has very little cause to complain…

-…especially given that Baylor got the lead afterwards anyway! Unfortunately, they decided to run a full court defense with Griner at halfcourt. I think the idea was that Monique Reed wasn’t going to be able to drive past Griner, and if she did, Griner would be able to recover. This proved a miscalculation. Griner should have been under the basket.

-Now, Louisville was, at one point in the game, 16-21 from behind the three-point line. Shoni also hit that impossible layup over Griner with her back to the basket. There was very little Baylor could do about either of those points. Louisville played its A+ game to be sure. In a single-elimination format, you must be ready to play pretty close to yours at all times because you can’t always control how out of its mind the other team might be.

-Walz deserves credit for a good game plan, and probably just as much for winning the subsequent regional final game against Tennessee. I would have bet anything Louisville would have had too much of a hangover after this win to play at a high level two days later. But that’s exactly what happened.

-So, what would have happened in a Baylor-UConn rematch in New Orleans? I honestly think UConn wins. Improved guard play, Breanna’s emergence, Kelly’s desire to go out on top, KML’s steady production, UConn’s institutional knowledge of how to win championships…I just think the pieces came together for Geno to get his eighth, no matter who was in the way. I’m sure Baylor fans would think differently, and I hardly begrudge them that. And quite frankly, I’m perfectly at peace with never being able to know for sure.

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