LSU’s Kim Mulkey senses reunion in trip to Texas for Final Four

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DALLAS – Kim Mulkey is returning to Texas for another Final Four, keenly aware that her LSU Tigers will play a short road trip from the school she made synonymous with women’s basketball.

Mulkey is the third coach to take multiple schools to the Final Four, doing so in her second season back in her home state of Louisiana after leading Baylor to the national semifinals four times in 21 seasons.

The Bears won three national championships under Mulkey, combined for 23 regular-season and tournament titles in the Big 12 Conference and made the NCAA Tournament in all but one of her seasons.

“You never spend 21 years of your life building a dynasty, and that’s what we did at Baylor. I think we can all agree with that,” Mulkey said Tuesday. “I still have a home there. My grandchildren are there. So my heart will always be there.”

Mulkey and the Tigers (33-2) will face first-time Final Four qualifier Virginia Tech (31-4) in the opener Friday night in Dallas, about 100 miles (160 km) north of Mulkey’s former college home in Waco. Defending champion South Carolina (36-0) plays Iowa (30-6) in the late game.

Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer took three teams to the Final Four, and Gary Blair made it that far with two.

Blair’s second was Texas A&M in 2011, when he won an Elite Eight showdown with Mulkey at American Airlines Center. Five years later in Dallas, the Bears again fell one win short of the Final Four.

Mulkey is back in Dallas with a new team after a 54-42 Elite Eight victory over Miami.

“There will be Baylor people sitting in my section that are heartbroken that I left,” Mulkey said. “I get it. Someday when I’m retired, maybe I’ll write another book and have more details, but I love Baylor University, the fans there, the Lady Bear fans there. But it was time. Timing is everything in life.”

South Carolina coach Dawn Staley has fonder memories of the home of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks. The Gamecocks won their first national title there five years ago, beating Mississippi State after the Bulldogs ended Connecticut’s 111-game winning streak in the semifinals.

“Dallas, it will be etched in my memory forever,” said Staley, whose team – the No. 1 overall seed – earned a return trip with an 86-75 victory over Maryland. “I remember vividly the police escorts. I remember our fans. I remember UConn losing. That was a huge moment in college women’s basketball.”

Virginia Tech coach Kenny Brooks is a Dallas Cowboys fan, so he remembers seeing star quarterback Dak Prescott in the stands five years ago rooting for his alma mater, Mississippi State.

Prescott remembers the “huge moment” to which Staley referred. His reaction to Morgan William’s buzzer-beating game-winner in overtime made the rounds on social media five years ago.

“That was a surreal moment,” Brooks said. “But my surreal moment was last night.”

That’s when the No. 1 seed Hokies beat Ohio State 84-74 to reach their first Final Four in Brooks’ seventh season. Iowa, which beat Louisville 97-83 in the Elite Eight, has advanced this far for the first time since 1993, when Stringer became the first coach to lead multiple teams to the Final Four.

Stringer had done it with Cheyney in the inaugural tournament season of 1982, and after the Iowa trip, she went twice more with Rutgers in 2000 and 2007.

“She called me immediately after we beat Louisville,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “In fact, she was my first voice message I got that night. I know coach Stringer is behind us. I haven’t been able to get back to her yet, but I will soon.”

Mulkey’s Bears were one of the top seeds in 2017, hoping to chase a title just up the road from their Waco campus. Mississippi State beat Baylor in overtime in the Elite Eight before the OT thriller against UConn.

The Tigers are this deep in the tournament for the first time since the last of five consecutive Final Four appearances in 2008, all of which ended in the semifinals.

Mulkey was asked if she felt the burden of living up to those glory years.

“We’ve already done that,” said Mulkey, who has now reached the NCAA Tournament in 19 consecutive seasons as a coach. “Winning a national championship will only put an exclamation mark on it. We have exceeded probably what anybody could just realistically say was possible this quickly.”

Nembhard helps Creighton beat Baylor 85-76, on to Sweet 16

Michael Ciaglo-USA TODAY Sports
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DENVER – The rims really aren’t bigger in Denver. It just felt that way to Ryan Nembhard.

The sophomore guard had a career-high 30 points and No. 6 seed Creighton found its shooting touch to beat third-seeded Baylor 85-76 on Sunday night and earn a spot in the Sweet 16 for the second time in three seasons.

With Baylor heavily focused on containing big man Ryan Kalkbrenner, Nembhard and the Bluejays went to work from outside. They shot 45.8% from 3-point range after a 3-for-20 showing in a first-round win over North Carolina State. They also went 22 of 22 from the free throw line, including 10 for 10 from Nembhard.

“The rim felt a little bit bigger tonight,” Nembhard said after a performance that included four 3-pointers. “Luckily, I made some shots.”

The Bluejays (23-12) will meet 15th-seeded Princeton in Louisville, Kentucky, on Friday in the NCAA Tournament. Princeton reached the South Region semifinals with wins over Arizona and Missouri.

“We definitely don’t care who we’re going against. We respect everybody,” Nembhard said. “At the end of the day, we think we’re just as good as anybody in the country.”

LJ Cryer finished with 30 points for Baylor (23-11), which lost in the second round for the second consecutive year after winning the championship in 2021. Big 12 freshman of the year Keyonte George was held to seven points, well below his average of 15.6.

George is projected as a potential lottery pick – should he decide to leave after this season.

“Nobody likes losing, but our coaching staff is really proud of this group,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “Disappointed we couldn’t keep playing, but proud of them.”

Leading by double digits, the Bluejays extended the lead – and pumped up the crowd – on back-to-back 3-pointers from Francisco Farabello and Nembhard.

The Bears cut it to 79-70 with around 3 minutes remaining, but turnovers kept them from getting any closer.

“We weren’t able to get enough stops to pull off the game,” said Baylor senior Adam Flagler.

Trey Alexander added 17 points for Creighton, with Arthur Kaluma scoring 11 and Kalkbrenner 10.

Nembhard, whose brother, Andrew, plays for the Indiana Pacers, was 8 of 13 from the field. His previous high was 25 against Arkansas on Nov. 22.

And to think, Creighton coach Greg McDermott wasn’t even all that sure he was going to be able to recruit Nembhard to Omaha, Nebraska.

McDermott figured Nembhard, a Canadian, might be headed to Florida, where Nembhard’s brother played before going to Gonzaga.

“I fell in love with him the first time I watched him play,” McDermott said. “His expression never changes. He has the type of demeanor that you want the rest of the team to look to because he’s never going to be rattled.”

The Jays certainly march to his beat.

“It’s always good to have a guy like him on the team who’s not only just a point guard, but he’s a leader and we look up to him – even though he’s shorter than all of us,” Kaluma cracked.

McDermott couldn’t help but reflect on his 2014 squad that lost to Baylor 85-55 in their second game of the tournament.

“Nine years ago, we lost to Baylor with a really special group,” McDermott said. “Tonight, we beat Baylor with a really special group.”

ON THE MARK

Creighton’s perfect night at the line ties for the best free throw percentage (minimum of 15 attempts) in tournament history. It matches Fordham’s mark on March 20, 1971, against South Carolina, according to research by an NCAA statistician.

“We spend some time after practice shooting free throws, but there’s no secret sauce that you have,” McDermott said.

BIG PICTURE

Creighton: Improved to 17-24 all-time in the tournament.

Baylor: The Bears are 19-10 in the NCAA Tournament under coach Scott Drew.

UP NEXT

Not much recent between Creighton and Princeton. The Jays did beat the Tigers 63-54 on Dec. 29, 1961.

Baylor powers past UC Santa Barbara 74-56 in March Madness

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DENVER – Caleb Lohner scored a season-best 13 points in just 18 minutes, and No. 3 seed Baylor beat UC Santa Barbara 74-56 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday.

“I was ready when my number was called,” said Lohner, who matched his scoring output from his previous 15 games combined. “And I think my role on this team is just to do whatever I can to help win.”

That help started well before tipoff, too.

Lohner, whose only other double-digit performance since transferring from BYU in 2022 came back in November, shared some tips about handling the high altitude.

“Me and coach (Scott) Drew actually had this conversation yesterday and I told him we should be drinking 10 to 12 water bottles,” Lohner said.

The well-hydrated Bears were led by Adam Flagler’s 18 points. LJ Cryer scored 11 of his 15 points in the second half, when Baylor held the Gauchos to just 20 points on 30% shooting.

“The players deserve all the credit,” Drew said. “I thought our bench did a really good job, especially at altitude. Having a deep bench helps in an early morning game. And I thought in the second half they had some good looks but they were just short on shots. We were short on shots, too. But I really credit the guys for locking in defensively.”

Next up for Baylor (23-10) is the Creighton-North Carolina State winner on Sunday in the South Region.

In the opening minutes, the Gauchos (27-8) looked like easy pickings for the Bears and their superb trio of guards in Flagler, Cryer and Big 12 Freshman of the Year Keyonte George. But Santa Barbara used a 13-1 run to take a 26-22 lead.

The Gauchos led the Mountain West Conference with a .493 shooting percentage and that sharpshooting carried over to Ball Arena, where they shot 61.5% in the first half to take a 36-35 lead into the locker room.

But that all went away after halftime. The Gauchos succumbed to the thin air, Baylor’s deeper bench and the Bears’ smothering defense.

Miles Norris led Santa Barbara with 15 points. Ajay Mitchell added 13.

“I told our kids afterwards there’s nothing to hang our heads about,” coach Joe Pasternack said. “We had a great first half. We ran out of steam in the second half.

“But we’re all going to be connected for life because they hung two championship banners, a regular season and a conference tournament championship, broke the (school) record for all-time wins by four games,” Pasternack added. “That’s really hard to do in college basketball, and we’ll all be connected forever.”

SHOWING OFF

Baylor sharpshooter Dale Bonner took advantage of an early dead ball to take off his undershirt and just play in his tank top jersey.

“I told him it was a great opportunity to show his muscles to the nation,” cracked Drew. “Maybe he’s a genius for that.”

BIG PICTURE

UC Santa Barbara: The Gauchos are a program on the rise. They won their second Big West championship in three seasons. They are 132-53 since 2017-18. Their next task: Win a March Madness matchup for the first time since upsetting Houston 70-66 in 1990.

Baylor: The Bears have a long history of March Madness maladies. But they avoided the same fate as their 2014-15 squad that lost as a third seed to 14th-seeded Georgia State 57-56. The following season, they lost to 12th-seeded Yale 79-75. And last year they fell to eighth-seeded North Carolina 93-86 in overtime in the second round as a No. 1 seed.

UP NEXT

The Bears, who won it all two years ago, are looking to reach the Sweet Sixteen for the sixth time in the program’s history.

Iowa State knocks out No. 10 Baylor 78-72 in Big 12 quarters

Amy Kontras-USA TODAY Sports
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Iowa State coach T.J. Otzelberger’s main talking points heading into a quarterfinal against No. 10 Baylor in the Big 12 Tournament centered on the basics: rebounding and points in the paint.

The Cyclones must have taken the message to heart.

Sure, Gabe Kalscheur knocked down six 3-pointers and scoring 24 points. But everyone else wearing red had a hand in the huge advantage on the boards, including a 21-5 edge on the offensive glass, and that allowed the fifth-seeded Cyclones to beat the fourth-seeded Bears 78-72 on Thursday and advance to the semifinal round.

“The things we really focused on,” Otzelberger said with a hoarse voice, “our guys did a great job.”

Jaren Holmes added 17 points, Tamin Lipsey had 12 and Tre King 10 for the Cyclones (19-12), who followed up a win over the Bears on Saturday by beating them for the fifth time in six conference tournament games.

Iowa State will play third-ranked Kansas on Friday night for a spot in the title game. The Jayhawks, playing without ailing coach Bill Self, beat West Virginia 78-61 in their quarterfinal matchup.

As for Bears, well, the game plan for Iowa State to beat them was simple.

“Our coaches did a great job of telling us to take away their 3s,” Kalscheur said. “Jalen Bridges was knocking down 3s – a lot of them were open – but we kind of limited their other guards from going off.”

Bridges, who was held to five points on 1-for-9 shooting against Iowa State last weekend, went 10 of 11 from the field, topped his career high with a 3 early in the second half and finished with 28 points for Baylor (22-10).

It wasn’t enough against the Cyclones, who are trying to repeat their 2019 title as the No. 5 seed.

They outhustled the Bears to just about every loose ball. They crashed the offensive glass, often getting three or four shots in each trip down floor. And they had Kalscheur and Co. lighting it up from beyond the arc.

“It’s about rebounding. It’s about toughness. It’s about want-to,” Bridges said, “and right now, we don’t have that.”

The first of the four quarterfinal games, each featuring a pair of teams that could be in the NCAA Tournament next week, was mostly played before vast sections of empty seats at T-Mobile Center. Many of them finally filled in the closing minutes with Kansas fans that were eagerly waiting their game against the Mountaineers.

Those late arrivals missed a typical, physical Big 12 showdown: The Bears’ Adam Flagler was trapped near midcourt and hit the deck early, sending him limping off the floor, and fellow guard Dale Bonner was similarly trapped and raked across his face in the final seconds, leaving him writhing around in pain.

Flagler returned to hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer that gave Baylor a 41-38 lead at the break.

Bridges was the one giving Iowa State the most fits, though. He drilled a couple of his 3-pointers early in the second half, and was 9 of 9 from the field and 6 of 6 from the arc before missing his first shot with 11:45 to go. But when he finally missed, the Cyclones were there to capitalize on his missed jumper.

Holmes dropped a 3 of his own from the top of the key at the other end, giving the Cyclones a 54-53 lead and forcing Bears coach Scott Drew to call a timeout, and Iowa State kept drawing away down the stretch.

“We tried to get Jalen going on that matchup, and that worked. Twelve assists and 11 turnovers, that worked,” Drew said. “It came down to rebounding. Period. That’s it. Simple thing. Football, it’s turnovers. Basketball, you got to rebound. Normally we always win second-chance points. Even if we break even, we win the game. It’s that simple.”

THE TAKEAWAY

Iowa State: Finished with a 44-17 advantage on the glass, and that translated to a 36-14 edge on points in the paint. That gave the Cyclones, who are known for their 3-point shooting, a balanced attack that Baylor couldn’t match.

Baylor: Didn’t get enough offensive efficiency to help Bridges out. Star freshman Keyonte George scored 11 points on 3-of-10 shooting before fouling out, Flagler had 14 points on 3-of-11 shooting and LJ Cryer was 3 for 10 for 10 points.

UP NEXT

Iowa State: Plays the No. 1 seed Jayhawks in Friday night’s semifinal round.

Baylor: Awaits its NCAA Tournament seed on Sunday.

Kansas’ Jalen Wilson named AP Big 12 Player of the Year

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
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Big 12 scoring and rebounding leader Jalen Wilson of Kansas is the unanimous pick as The Associated Press Big 12 player of the year.

Kansas State senior forward Keyontae Johnson joined Wilson as the only unanimous first-team picks in the selections. Johnson, a transfer from Florida who has turned into a top player after a frightening collapse more than two years ago, was also selected as newcomer of the year in voting by a panel of 17 journalists who cover the league.

First-year Kansas State coach Jerome Tang was voted as coach of the year. After 19 seasons as an assistant for coach Scott Drew at Baylor, including the national championship two years ago, Tang directed the Wildcats to a 23-8 record in the regular season and third place in the Big 12 standings after being picked to finish last in a preseason poll of league coaches.

Wilson, a 6-foot-8 junior forward, goes into this week’s Big 12 tournament leading the league with 19.7 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. The 6-6 Johnson averages 17.8 points and 7.0 rebounds.

Texas graduate guard Marcus Carr, Baylor senior guard Adam Flagler and K-State junior guard Markquis Nowell round out the first-team picks. The 5-8 Nowell is the Big 12’s top free-throw shooter (88.5%), and also leads the league with 7.7 assists and 2.5 steals a game.

The second-team picks are senior Damion Baugh and junior Mike Miles Jr. from TCU, along with Kansas freshman guard Gradey Dick, Baylor freshman guard Keyonte George and Kansas senior guard Kevin McCullar Jr., a transfer from Texas Tech.

Johnson got 13 of the 17 votes for newcomer of the year, while Baylor’s George got the other four.

Tang was the overwhelming choice for top coach with 15 votes. The remaining two votes went to Texas interim coach Rodney Terry, who led the Longhorns to a second-place finish in the Big 12 following the December dismissal and eventual firing of Chris Beard.

FIRST TEAM

u-Keyontae Johnson, Kansas State, 6-6, 230, Sr., Norfolk, Virginia.

u-Jalen Wilson, Kansas, 6-8, 225, Jr., Denton, Texas.

Marcus Carr, Texas, 6-2, 175, Gr., Toronto.

Adam Flagler, Baylor, 6-3, 185, Sr., Duluth, Georgia.

Markquis Nowell, Kansas State, 5-8, 160, Sr./Jr., New York.

-“u-” denotes unanimous selection.

SECOND TEAM

Damion Baugh, TCU, 6-4, 195, Sr., Nashville, Tenneseee.

Gradey Dick, Kansas 6-8, 205, Fr., Wichita, Kansas.

Keyonte George, Baylor, 6-4, 185, Fr., Lewisville, Texas.

Kevin McCullar Jr., Kansas, 6-6, 210, Sr., San Antonio.

Mike Miles Jr., TCU, 6-2, 195, Jr., Dallas.

Coach of the year – Jerome Tang, Kansas State

Player of the year – Jalen Wilson, Kansas.

Newcomer of the year – Keyontae Johnson, Kansas State.

AP All-Big 12 Voting Panel: Chuck Carlton, Dallas Morning News; Arne Green, Salina Journal; Jordan Guskey, Topeka Capital-Journal; Justin Jackson, The Dominion Post; Steven Johnson, Fort Worth Star-Telegram; Thomas Jones, Austin American-Statesman; Eric Kelly, KWKT-TV, Waco, Texas; Eli Lederman, Tulsa World; Justin Martinez, The Oklahoman; Jared MacDonald, Charleston Gazette-Mail; Randy Peterson, Des Moines Register; Kellis Robinett, Wichita Eagle; Dean Ruhl, Tulsa World; Carlos Silva Jr., Lubbock Avalanche-Journal; Matt Tait, Lawrence Journal-World; Jacob Unruh, The Oklahoman; John Werner, Waco Tribune-Herald.

No. 5 Kansas rallies in 2nd half, beats No. 9 Baylor 87-71

William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports
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LAWRENCE, Kan. – DaJuan Harris scored all 14 of his points in the second half as No. 5 Kansas stormed back from a double-digit halftime deficit and beat No. 9 Baylor 87-71 Saturday.

The Jayhawks (22-5, 10-4 Big 12) outscored the Bears 55-26 in the second half.

“That’s Harris and (Kevin) McCullar,” Kansas coach Bill Self said when asked to describe the turnaround in the second half. “The good looks (Baylor) got in the second half, they didn’t make them. In the first half, even when they got hard looks, they made them.

“Harris can make shots. He just doesn’t take a lot of them.”

Jalen Wilson led Kansas with 21 points and 13 rebounds. KJ Adams added 17 points and Gradey Dick had 16.

“We just had to gain composure,” Wilson said of the second-half surge. “It’s a long game, and we’re never going to quit.”

The Jayhawks are tied with Texas for the top spot in the Big 12 Conference. The Longhorns beat Oklahoma 85-83 in overtime earlier Saturday.

“You can now start talking about the conference race,” Self said. “There’s only four games left and we’re in a good position.”

Baylor is in sole possession of third place, a game behind Kansas and Texas and a game ahead of Kansas State and Iowa State.

“That’s a good game for the Big 12,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “You saw what we were capable of in the first half and what Kansas is capable of in the second half.”

Baylor (20-7, 9-5) got nearly all of its scoring from its three-guard combo of Adam Flagler (22 points) Keyonte George (20 points) and LJ Cryer (15 points). The rest of the team combined to score just 14 points.

Baylor shot 9 of 14 from 3-point range in the first half and and 10 for 25 overall. Conversely, Kansas, which hit only 1 of 11 from beyond the arc in the first half finished 6 for 21 from long distance.

The Jayhawks scored the last three points of the first half and the first 10 of the second half to trim a 15-point deficit to 45-42 with less than 2:30 gone in the second half.

“As good as we were in the first half, that’s how bad we were in the second half,” Drew said. “They just killed us in transition.”

When Dick hit a 3-pointer at the 14:29 mark, Kansas had stormed all the way back and led 50-49. The Jayhawks never trailed again and extended the lead to double digits (65-54) at the 10:20 mark of the second half.

“You’re not going to change (the momentum) by making shots,” Wilson said. “It’s going to start by making stops. We needed to be aggressive.”

The Bears led 20-14 at the second media timeout with Cryer (11 points) and Flagler (9) combining for all 20 Baylor points. Baylor used an 8-0 run to extend the lead to 33-21 with 5:07 left. George joined in the scoring, and when he hit a 3-pointer with 3:54, followed by another with 3:32 left, the Bears led 39-23 with all the points coming from the three guards.

Baylor led 45-32 at halftime after hitting nine 3-pointers. George led the Bears with 15 first-half points. Flagler had 14 and Cryer had 13. Jalen Bridges had the only other three points of the half.

Baylor also held a 21-13 advantage on the boards in the first half.

THE TAKEAWAY

Baylor: The Bears need to find other scoring besides their three guards. When they went cold in the second half, the Bears had no answer.

Kansas: The Jayhawks are tough to beat in Allen Fieldhouse. With the quick start to the second half, the crowd got behind the Jayhawks, who rallied.

UP NEXT

Baylor: The Bears travel to No. 12 Kansas State on Tuesday night.

Kansas: The Jayhawks travel to Fort Worth, Texas, for a Big Monday matchup with No. 22 TCU.