Posted: Sunday April 1, 2012 12:59AM ; Updated: Sunday April 1, 2012 12:59AM
Richard Deitsch

Baylor coach Kim Mulkey talks Bell's palsy diagnosis, Final Four

Story Highlights

Baylor coach Kim Mulkey was diagnosed with a nerve disorder called Bell's palsy

Mulkey said this setback won't affect how she coaches the Lady Bears on Sunday

Star Brittney Griner says that she will not turn pro immediately after this season

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Days before the Final Four, Baylor coach Kim Mulkey was diagnosed with Bell's palsy.
Days before the Final Four, Baylor coach Kim Mulkey was diagnosed with Bell's palsy.
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

DENVER -- Don't ask her to smile. At least not this weekend. That was the message Baylor coach Kim Mulkey told the media on Saturday when asked about her health. Mulkey's left eye looked as if she had gone 10 rounds with Manny Pacquiao and one of her ears, in her own words, felt like it had been blown out. She dabbed her eyes repeatedly during an afternoon press conference at the Pepsi Center, and shaded her face as the camera lights shone on her.

Three days ago Mulkey was diagnosed with Bell's palsy, a nerve disorder that impacts the movement of facial muscles. The condition makes her left eye droop but thankfully it has not impacted her sense of humor remains intact. "The biggest problem I'm having is my eyes," said Mulkey, who was named the Associated Press Coach of the Year on Saturday. "The light bothers me. The tears and the dryness and itchiness, they say is all a part of it. And my ears -- I feel like one ear is blown out and I can't tell if the other one is hearing or if it's just off balance. As far as the distortion or whatever you want to call it of the face, hell, I'm just another ugly coach."

Mulkey said last week she noticed an odd feeling in her tongue during the NCAA regional in Des Moines. Initially, she thought it was a result of using old toothpaste, but an MRI and two doctors shed light on the actual issue. Baylor trainer Alex Olson said Mulkey is being treated with an anti-viral medication and oral steroids to reduce the inflammation of the facial nerve.

Three years ago Mulkey missed a first-round NCAA tournament game after complications following surgery to remove kidney stones. The coach said that her condition would have no impact on her undefeated (38-0) team, who play Stanford in the late Final Four game (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) on Sunday.

"Listen, the alternatives are worse," said Mulkey, 49. "Bell's palsy is fixable. Bell's palsy with time will get better. This is just a little bump in the road. I can assure you the spit that will fly out of my face in a timeout won't faze them. Or the spit mouth, they'll understand what I'm saying. It's really nothing. It hasn't affected them. It hasn't affected me. It aggravates me. It aggravates me, but there are worse things in life. And you just deal with it."

One thing Bell's palsy has not taken away is Mulkey's bite. During the team news conferences, junior star center Brittany Griner -- who was named the Associated Press Player of the Year -- reiterated that she has no plans to leave Baylor after her junior season for the WNBA or a European League. That created a humorous exchange between coach and player:

Griner: "I made a commitment. I said I was coming here, and I'm going to stay here until my time's up. So all the speculations of me leaving early are false. I'm staying here, right here at Baylor."

Mulkey: "Could you say that a little louder? Because some of these [media] keep wanting to keep talking about it. Some want to keep writing about it. Would you just repeat that slowly."

And Griner did just that.

"Baylor is my home, I'm staying here," she repeated. "I made a commitment. All the speculations are false. I'm not going anywhere. I'm staying right here."
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