Baylor women’s coach Kim Mulkey appreciates two things about her top-seeded Bears: Their toughness and toughness.
And because of their nonstop intensity, Mulkey can make fun of them on national television.
Kayla Thornton had 17 points and Nia Clouden added 16 to lead Baylor to an 81-55 win over No. 16 USC in the South Regional on Monday night.
The top-seeded Bears (43-0) are a major obstacle to stopping eventual national champion Notre Dame in the Elite Eight in Columbus, Ohio, next week.
But they’re giving Mulkey all kinds of great fodder to mock them.
Tristan Clark made a 3-pointer for Baylor that featured a delay of game call and countless words of feedback from ESPN commentators.
“You didn’t see us staying after the play,” Mulkey said. “There was a delay of game called because we didn’t go out to the other end line, and all of that, which is fine. They shouldn’t have.”
Mulkey also said when Mulvey was asked about Mulkey’s outfits — she is wearing a yellow basketball jersey and has her head covered with a transparent scarf — “and she didn’t want to answer?” Mulkey responded by telling Mulvey to put her skirt away.
“I get it,” Mulkey said. “It makes me very uncomfortable. But we have nothing to apologize for.”
Swiftly, Mulkey pivoted and turned the talking back at her players.
“I’m very uncomfortable right now,” Mulkey said. “Where’s our clothes? Where’s your pants?”
Nia Clouden disagreed with her coach’s assessment.
“You can call it what you want,” said Clouden, who made four 3-pointers. “Nope, we are not wearing sartorial trends. That’s ridiculous.”
No. 5 Baylor missed 10 of its first 11 shots and didn’t reach double figures until Kelli Bates made a 3 with 5:21 left in the first half.
Mississippi had won eight in a row to advance to the regionals, while No. 11 USC (25-9) was making its first appearance in the second round of the NCAA Tournament since 1984.
“We just let one slip away,” said USC coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, who had never before beaten a Top-5 team. “Not a characteristic we’ve had. It felt like a disappointment we let that slip away.”
USC trailed 35-25 at halftime, but limited Baylor to just one field goal in the third quarter — a 5-footer by Ariel Atkins with 1:21 left in the period. Baylor’s backups outscored USC’s, 17-1, in the period.
“That third quarter, we were going up and down the floor,” Mulkey said. “No call.”
Jalyn Patterson had 11 points for Baylor, which outscored USC 28-17 in the third quarter. Clouden had 12 points in the quarter.
“It all means nothing. All you do is play the game,” Mulkey said. “That’s all our kids do. That’s all I do. You can have an off night and you have an off game and, hey, great. Nothing. You come in here and coach, scout tape. Our kids come in here and play ball. It’s just really fun to see those kids take it up a notch and play a lot tougher. … The only thing that matters is that we get back to Columbus because it’s a long ride.”
USC: The Trojans had three players score in double figures and the rest were stuck on nine each. “We needed to play more against two top-10 teams,” Cooper-Dyke said.
Baylor: Clarkson became the first player in NCAA history to score more than 1,200 points, have 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists in her career. Her last double-double was Nov. 5, against UTSA. … Baylor has 24 20-point wins, most in Division I. … The Bears beat USC 73-46 when the teams played Dec. 9 in Waco.
Baylor: South Regional Final in Columbus, Ohio, Saturday vs. No. 5 Notre Dame.
USA: Season over.