Baylor Women Beat Notre Dame 80-61 For NCAA Title

The Baylor University women's basketball team capped an undefeated and unprecedented 40-win season Tuesday night with a resounding 80-61 win over Notre Dame in the NCAA championship game. The Bears were led by their 6-foot-8 national player of the year Brittney Griner, who had 26 points

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The Baylor Lady Bears have their title and a piece of history too. Last night in Denver, Baylor won a women's college basketball championship that many expected. The Lady Bears beat Notre Dame 80-61 to go undefeated and then became the first team in NCAA history to win 40 games in a season. NPR's Tom Goldman reports the player who led Baylor all year was the star once again.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: From the start, and I do mean the start, it just didn't seem fair.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Welcome to tonight's Division 1 women's basketball championship game. Tonight's game features the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish...

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Unintelligible)...

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

GOLDMAN: Not only did Lady Bear fans belt out the bigger opening cheer, Baylor had the team with the spotless record and the transcendent player - center Brittney Griner. But Notre Dame had been there before. They played in last season's championship game and they acted like it, at least early on.

The favored team from Waco, Texas set the pace, but Notre Dame, playing smart and aggressive basketball, hung with the Lady Bears. The Fighting Irish plan was to play a zone defense and then swarm Griner with double teams when she got the ball. Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said the plan worked pretty well until the referee's whistle started going off.

MUFFET MCGRAW: When we got into the foul trouble, that destroyed our game plan.

GOLDMAN: Notre Dame had to go deeper into its bench than normal when starting post player Devereaux Peters picked up three first half fouls. You only get five. But even if they got 10, McGraw's smart enough to know what really destroyed her game plan was a 6 foot 8 inch phenom who hogged most of the public address announcements.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Lady Bear's basket(ph) - Brittney Griner.

MCGRAW: She shot over us, you know. There really wasn't anything we could do. We brought the double team and she was unstoppable.

GOLDMAN: Like a guy playing with women, McGraw said.

As outstanding as Griner was, she had plenty of help. Baylor forward Brooklyn Pope crashed the boards for four important offensive rebounds. Afterwards, Pope rejected the notion some had that the pressure of completing an undefeated season might cause the Lady Bears to stumble Tuesday night.

BROOKLYN POPE: Whenever you let negativity sink in your head, then it's possible. We never even gave it the thought of day. We was like we're going to go out there, we're going to play hard. We're going to give it everything we got. And clearly everything we had was more than they had.

GOLDMAN: That's been the case all season. And as the wins piled up and the expectations grew, head coach Kim Mulkey decided to embrace her team's dominance.

KIM MULKEY: I couldn't walk in that locker room and hoodwink them and tell them you're not that good. You're one of many. Because truthfully, we're pretty special.

GOLDMAN: During the Lady Bear's ascent, Griner has endured some nasty tweets and online messages questioning her gender, due to her size and deep voice. Griner has shrugged it off. Getting bounced around by double and triple teams has helped her develop a sense of calm - something she's tried to impart on her coach during this super-charged season.

BRITTNEY GRINER: We were just trying to calm down coach. You know, she always asked us, can I sleep good tonight? Yeah, coach. Get your sleep. We got it. We got it, coach. We got it. And, you know, we're just calming her down.

GOLDMAN: Griner's game high 26 points, 13 rebounds, five blocked shots, and oh yes, a Most Outstanding Player award for the tournament are enough to make any coach sleep well. And when Mulkey's head hit the pillow, chances are her dreams were nice too. Dreams of an historic season and dreams of next year when, uh oh, rest of field, all five Baylor starters are back.

Tom Goldman, NPR News, Denver.

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