The Baylor Lady Bears and the Oregon Ducks are facing off in the Final Four on Friday night!
Oregon got to their Final Four in Tampa by vanquishing the Mississippi State Bulldogs. The Ducks are led by Junior Guard Sabrina Ionescu, who averages nearly 20 points a game while grebbing seven and a half rebounds per contest.
She will obviously be the focal point for the Lady Bears on defense, but Oregon is third in the nation in scoring offense – so this gameplan is always a work in progress for Head Coach Kim Mulkey.
“It’s gonna be a great basketball game. They have to guard us, as well. So today, my plan may be one way to guard her. Then 5:00 in the morning, I may jot something different down cause that’s what you do as a coach – is you just constantly think about it, through the night, make sure you’ve covered every possible scenario that you can and get a feel and flow of the game as you’re sitting there watching it,” Mulkey says.
The Lady Bears made this trip for the first time since 2012, which is interesting if you think about Baylor’s first title coming in 2005, their second in 2012, and now seven years later they are back once again.
Baylor’s battles to get back to this point have been well-documented, but Oregon’s a team who went through their own dissapointments in the regional round – losing in the Elite 8 each of the last two years – so both of these teams are extremeley appreciative of this moment.
“It’s kind of like a dream come true. This is the last thing I was talking about getting as a senior. So just to get that with this particular team, it’s pretty amazing,” says Senior Center Kalani Brown.
“Coming alone and seeing the teams that you’ve played, seeing these buses get escorted while you’re standing on the street watching, I knew that I wanted my team to experience the little things that I had experienced when I was here. Getting our awards. And our coaching staff has been here and they wanted to bring our team, so I think that we’re really happy to be here as a team,” Ionescu says.
The journey has been the theme for this team and a lot of these players. No one embodies this journey theme more than Chloe Jackson. She was previously the best player on the team at LSU, but she wanted more. She wanted a championship no matter what that took.
Jackson’s journey has taken her from upper Marlboro, Maryland, to Waco, Texas by way of Raliegh and Baton Rouge.
Jackson’s talent was evident at LSU – lifting her team to an NCAA Tournament ironically enough in Waco. But Chloe wanted a chance to pay for a championship, and she was willing to do whatever it took. So naturally, there’s no better place than Baylor for that.
Jackson’s talent to her teammates was evident from the moment they hit the floor together. Moving from more of a shooting guard to a point guard was a struggle at times, but she became an integral piece of the Baylor machine.
Now that Jackson has helped Baylor to this point, she wants to finish the job and go out on top.
Accuntability and dependability are big keys for this Baylor team. This is why people hear a lot about their team chemistry and how this feels like a family. This serves this team well on the floor but even better off of it.
Players and coaches on this team have had personal stuggles in their lives – wheteher it be the loss of a child or grandchild, or the loss of a family member – like what Didi Richards and Moon Ursin went through this season. But no matter what, this team knows that when they need one another they are in this together.
“You can always pick up the phone, or you can always go to their house or whatever, they’re always there. We see each other basically the entire day, so it’s good when you don’t get tired of them. You know what I mean. Just having that secondary family to lean on. If you just need a shoulder to cry on, whatever it may be,” says Sophomore Guard Moon Ursin.
“We have some real life situations going the last two years, and I think that’s part of, that’s part of growing up,” says Lady Bears Associate Head Coach Bill Brock.
This team would love nothing more than to hug each other and that big championship trophy on Sunday night. But in order to get there, they have to win the game on Friday night against the Ducks.