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Closer Look

No. 2 Baylor 84, No. 1 Michigan State 62

Posted: Wednesday April 6, 2005 2:12AM; Updated: Wednesday April 6, 2005 2:41AM
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By Richard Deitsch, SI.com

One Shining Moment

Baylor beats MSU
Baylor outrebounded Michigan State 45-22, helping the Lady Bears to their first national title.
AP

The game was out of reach at the time, but there was a jaw-dropping sequence from Baylor All-America junior forward Sophia Young that encapsulated the entire Baylor season. With the Lady Bears leading 56-40 with 10:29 remaining, Baylor point guard Chelsea Whitaker was fouled by Spartan reserve center Laura Hall.

Whitaker missed her free throw, but Young glided past her defender to snatch it and was fouled by Hall while shooting a short putback. She hit her first free throw, missed the second, but tracked down her miss near the left sideline and quickly kicked it back to the top of the key.

She then sprinted to the left low block, received an entry pass from center Steffanie Blackmon, and scored on a layup. She finished with 26 points, nine rebounds, four assists and never stopped working, even when Baylor was up 18 with under four minutes to play.Young averaged 23 points in six tournament games and was named the Final Four Most Outstanding Player. If I were a WNBA team, I'd be angling to get to the top of the 2006 draft starting today.

Player who impressed me

She wears No. 51, a number more akin to a linebacker than a small forward, and her bulky frame won't inspire awe at Venice Beach. But Baylor's Emily Niemann is a player, strictly old school, right down to her black nearly knee-high socks that seem to stretch to the top of the RCA Dome. Michigan State coach Joanne P. McCallie said before the game that the 6-foot-1 sophomore forward was the game's X-Factor and her five 3-pointers in the first half swallowed the life out of the Spartans' matchup zone.

Niemann finished with 19 points on 6-of-10 shooting and was 5-for-8 from 3-point range.

"She was the key to the whole game," said McCallie. "If you take No. 51 off the floor, it's a whole different game. She was the X-Factor."

She also comes from championship pedigree. Older brother Jeff led Rice to a victory in the College World Series in 2003 by going 17-0 that season. He was selected by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays with the fourth overall pick 2004 draft and is now at Class A Visalia.

Reserve guard Latoya Wyatt had a tremendous 20 minutes and helped break down the Michigan State defense with her penetrating drives. She had eight points, six rebounds and was part of a Baylor bench that outscored their reserve counterparts 29-3. Senior center Blackmon was benched for much of the LSU game but returned against Michigan State with vigor. She was active in the post and aggressive as a rebounder. Young and Blackmon combined for 48 points, 16 rebounds, and five assists.

"They hit shots from the high post, the mid-post, and they step out and make it much harder to double because they are constantly moving," said McCallie. "I just thought they were beautiful. I caught myself watching them on occasion and said I better stop that and get back to the game."

Championship formula

As expected, rebounding was the story. Throughout the night, especially on the offensive boards, Baylor's players were quicker to the ball. They outrebounded Michigan State, 45-22, and the Spartans tied an NCAA championship record (UConn, 2002) for fewest rebounds. It was also Michigan State's lowest rebounding total of the season.

"We used our guards to get a lot of tough rebounds down deep," said Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson.

Indeed, Baylor's guards had 17 of their 45 rebounds. The Lady Bears had 16 offensive rebounds to Michigan State's three. The Spartans never could figure out a way to slow down Niemann. She destroyed the Spartans matchup zone including three 3-pointers in the final 5:29 of the first half. The last one hurt the most. It came with eight seconds left to give Baylor a 37-25 lead. Baylor was 15-1 this season when Niemann scored in double figures.

Courtside confidential

Niemann carried inspiration in the court. She wrote on her left forearm: PSALM 15:1 NOT JUST BUT TO YOUR NAME.

"I do different verses for different nights and this was the one for tonight," Niemann said. "I felt like it was really appropriate for the night for a lot of glory coming our way."

And the black socks?

"We usually don't get to wear black socks or tall socks but coach said if we made it to the national championship we could do it," Niemann said. "I took advantage of that."

Among the better signs from Baylor fans: SPARTANS DON'T CRY OVER SPILLED MULK. The bad taste award? PLEASE MSU, NO RIOTS WHEN YOU LOSE AGAIN.

Baylor defeated three No. 1 seeds in a row: North Carolina, Stanford and Michigan State. The last time that happened either in the men's or women's tournament was the Arizona men in 1997 ... The 22-point losing margin was the second most in a women's championship game behind Tennessee's 67-44 win over Louisiana Tech in 1987 ... Mulkey-Roberston is the first woman to win a national championship as a player (1982) and head coach (2005) ... Baylor enters next season on a 20-game winning streak ... Next year's NCAA Women's Basketball Selection show will move to Monday night at 7PM on ESPN.

The move from Sunday has both pros and cons: It will help the network's ratings for the show and give the women's tournament more of a television showcase, but it's going to be deadly for newspaper sports sections in terms of meeting deadline for expanded stories. It also remains to be seen whether USA Today will include the terrific multi-page women's capsules on Tuesday that have become a staple of the Monday paper ... Baylor fans outnumbered Michigan State fans by a 60-40 margin ... The team leaves Indianapolis Wednesday afternoon and goes straight to a championship rally at the Ferrell Center.

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