TAMPA, Fla. – Throughout the season, Baylor forward Lauren Cox had been half of Baylor's double punch in the post, and early in Sunday's NCAA championship game, it was no different.
Cox, a Flower Mound graduate, was big on the boards at the start of the Bears' 82-81 victory against Notre Dame, catching rebounds and making blocks. But as the Irish who fought began to retreat, the 6-4 strikers had to be withdrawn.
With just over a minute to play in the third quarter, Cox stepped on the foot of his teammate under the basket and fell on the court, grabbing his left knee. The game was stopped for several minutes when Coach Kim Mulkey and medical staff treated Cox, and she left the game with a standing ovation, her face buried in her shirt.
"It was tough when he fell, that's our leader," said Baylor point guard Chloe Jackson. "Our motto is linked to Tampa, and we just have to stay together, we knew it would be difficult without her, but we have to do it for her."
When Cox left, freshman Nalyssa Smith entered.
Less than a minute after entering, Smith had an offensive rebound and a setback to give Baylor (37-1) a 14-point lead.
The Irish Fighting made a game in the last quarter, but Smith had three great jumpers that prevented the "come from behind" rally from taking shape. Smith failed with less than a minute to play, but finished the night with 7 of 9 shots for 14 points and six rebounds.
"Nalyssa has some big baskets," said Kalani Brown. "She came there as if they did not deny her, she gave us that spark, sure, we do not lose a moment when [the reserves] sub in ".
Mulkey, who held back tears as he walked back to the bench after attending to Cox and his injury, was shaken by the turn of events. However, he was not surprised at how Smith responded.
"She has ice water in her veins," Mulkey said. "Nalyssa believes he can score in every shot he fired."
In good company: Before Sunday, Mulkey and Notre Dame & Muffet McGraw had trained their teams in two national titles in their long periods.
But with her victory on Sunday, Mulkey further consolidated her legacy in women's college basketball.
Now with three NCAA championships, Mulkey has the third-largest number of women's basketball coaches behind Geno Auriemma (11) of Connecticut and Pat Summitt of Tennessee (8). There are still only six coaches who have more than one.
A landmark victory: The victory of Baylor against Notre Dame was the 50th victory of the program in the tournament of the NCAA. The Bears, now 3-0 in the NCAA championship games, have a 50-15 record in the postseason and have the third-best winning percentage (76.9) in NCAA tournament history behind. of Connecticut (85.8 percent) and Tennessee (80.6 percent).
The 16 consecutive Baylor appearances in the NCAA tournament (2004-19) is the sixth longest current streak, and the 50th NCAA tournament wins eighth place nationwide. Tennessee leads the way with 125.
Points of reference: The 25 points scored by Baylor in the first quarter was the third highest production for a single quarter in an NCAA championship game. In addition, Baylor's two-goal field goal percentage in the Final Four (53.8 percent) is the third highest total combined for a semifinal and a final. Baylor shot 53.4 percent from the field against Fighting Irish, which ranks second in NCAA championship history.
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