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Bohls: Horns' fight against dominant Baylor shows a Texas 'that's looming'

Baylor coach Kim Mulkey calls out to her team during Monday night's 64-57 win over Texas that clinched the Lady Bears' 11th straight Big 12 regular-season championship.
  • Baylor's Kim Mulkey holds a healthy respect for Vic Schaefer, senses growing rivalry with Texas.
  • Texas stills has trouble scoring points but plays a feisty brand of defense and forced 23 turnovers.
  • "This is a Texas that's looming ... and coming on strong," senior point guard Kyra Lambert said.

Kim Mulkey showed up at the postgame press conference Monday night after the latest matchup between her sixth-ranked Baylor women’s basketball team and Texas. And she wasn’t smiling, a convincing 64-57 win over the feisty Longhorns notwithstanding.

But she offered clear rebuttal.

“We’re the Big 12 champion for the 11th straight year in a row outright,” the Lady Bears coach said. “How could I not be happy?”

Exactly. How could she not? So why no ear-to-ear grin, Kim?

“Have you ever known me to smile much?” she asked rhetorically.

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Good point. Not unless she’s cutting down a net someplace at the end of a season with confetti raining from the rafters, now that she mentions it.

That, of course, has been the standard for the best women’s coach in the country not named Geno Auriemma. She’s won three national championships so far. A fourth might have come last spring but for a cantankerous virus and might come this April.

So her Bears (20-2, 15-1 Big 12) might be making up for lost time as a team that has once again swept through the Big 12 and laid waste to a pretty good league with two games to play.

Mulkey gives perfectionists a bad name. She always wants more. She’s greedy like that. In fact, call her Coach Greedy.

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Texas guard Audrey Warren makes a steal against Baylor guard DiDi Richards during Monday's game. The Longhorns were blown out by Baylor in Waco last month, but played the projected No. 2 NCAA Tournament seed much closer in Austin.

Her win over the burnt orange marked the 10th consecutive and 24th in the last 25 meetings, which doesn’t suggest domination. It screams it. From the mountaintops. Or from Waco.

Baylor has been in a league of its own almost since the moment Mulkey arrived in 2000. And, while the Bears show no signs of letting up with a very worthy national player of the year candidate NaLyssa Smith, brilliant point guard Didi Richards and an all-star cast, let it be known they will be getting some competition in the near future.

Heck, they might even break a sweat. They did Monday as feisty Texas hung tough despite another horrid shooting night and forced 23 Baylor turnovers. Sounds familiar for Vic Schaefer’s team. Nobody plays harder.

“I’m not one for any kind of moral victories,” Schaefer said. “I just thought they competed their rears off.”

That they did. It was a hotly contested, emotional game in which each side got whistled for a technical and a livid Schaefer had to be restrained by his staff when he went ballistic over a horrible call that went against Texas’ Charli Collier.

Afterward, the two coaches met at midcourt for a friendly little chit-chat as they did in Waco a few weeks ago. You never saw that congeniality from Mulkey and Schaefer's predecessor Karen Aston, a duo who used to set land speed records for blow-by handshakes after games.

But I’m guessing Mulkey sees Schaefer as an equal and expects — as do I — that the two will be battling on much more even terms sooner than later. Maybe not 2021-22 sooner, but not in the far distant future, either.

“It’s a process, that’s all I can say,” said Schaefer, whose team is projected as a No. 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament. “I don’t have a date for you. I just know it’s a process, and we’ve got to get some help in here, but these kids are doing all they can do. I thought we showed tremendous resolve and grit tonight.”

Even senior point guard Kyra Lambert, who played her heart out, said, “I think we’re getting better, and we can hang with any team in the country. This is a Texas that’s looming. This is a Texas that’s really coming on strong.”

Amen to that. 

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Texas head coach Vic Schaefer speaks with guard Audrey Warren after Monday night's 64-57 loss to Baylor.

It’s a very young, shooting-challenged team that leaves its defensive guts out on the floor on a regular basis, one that will be joined by a five-member recruiting class that ranks fourth nationally and includes three McDonald’s All-Americans, two of them stellar guards. The roster might need a big makeover, and Schaefer certainly would welcome a grad transfer or two.

But these Horns will be leaps and bounds better this time next year.

I think Mulkey senses it as well.

“I have much respect for Vic Schaefer,” she said. “You’re a first-year coach, and you’re inheriting players that you didn’t recruit. They have to buy into what you’re selling, and it doesn’t happen overnight. I can tell you that they play hard. He has talent on that floor.”

And a stronger Longhorns team would be a good thing: for the strong Big 12, which will put five teams in the NCAA Tournament; obviously for Texas, which fell to 16-8 and is improving as a defensive firebrand despite a limited roster; even for Baylor, which truth be told could use a good rival and a nationally respected fellow banner-bearer for the league. 

After all, the Bears, as spectacular as they are, were marked only as a No. 3 seed not long ago. They consider such as insulting. And should. They’ve lost only two games all year, one to Iowa State after the Bears returned from a lengthy COVID-19 pause. 

They’ve since risen to a No. 2, but even that makes little sense since it’s hard to imagine four teams better than Mulkey’s crew.

At least Baylor gives Texas a target to aim for. A sizable one.

At this point, the Longhorns are still clearly overmatched. They never get an easy shot. Sometimes you wonder if they’ll ever make another shot. They can be painful to watch at the offensive end with three guards that are shooting in the 30s percentage-wise. Shoot, guard Celeste Taylor is firing at a troubling 28% clip from 3-point range and makes just 48% of her free throws.

They never know where their next 3-pointer is coming from although Joanne Allen-Taylor got hot and hit a couple late. The hustling Audrey Warren, who is Brock Cunningham with more offense, and Lambert also made two treys apiece. Texas, in fact, made half of its dozen tries from long distance against Baylor but went a disjointed 10-for-38 from 2-point range as they drove the lane into the teeth of the Bears' defense and consistently got shots blocked or passes stolen.

But as Schaefer accurately put it, “We shot 32% tonight and get beat by seven.”

That, ladies and gents, represents progress. Clear, discernible progress.

When you lose 60-35 in the first meeting in Waco and make one of 12 bombs and then score 35 points in the second half in the rematch, improvement is obvious.

“I think we just competed way harder, just flat-out competed better,” Allen-Taylor said. “We matched their energy in a lot of places tonight.”

This is just a small prelude to how much entertainment these two teams will offer in the years ahead. Monday was just a little glimpse.

As Mulkey put it, “All these kids play against each other in high school or summer ball. I don’t know how much they know about Texas in previous Final Fours because, you know, that’s many years ago, but I know I certainly do.”

Yeah, too many years ago. Just a small but very obvious dig from Coach Greedy. Let the rivalry bloom.