SAN ANTONIO – Their January regular-season showdown was canceled due to a COVID-19 issue, but women’s basketball titans UConn and Baylor will meet in 2021, after all, in the River Walk regional final of Monday’s NCAA tournament. . And after his team survived a close fight Saturday against No. 6 seed Michigan (78-75 in overtime), Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said his Elite Eight game will match strength with force. .
“You’re watching two shows that value defense,” Mulkey said. “I think Baylor and UConn are in the top three in the country in field goal percentage defense. Then you look at rebounds. That could explain why both programs are respected across the country.
“So yeah, it could be an ugly game. When I say ugly, it could be a low score, it could be some turnovers. Some people mean boring. It might not be 80 or 90. I don’t know.”
Coming into Saturday, No. 2 seed Baylor was in fact No. 1 in field goal defense percentage (31.7) and No. 1 seed UConn No. 3 (32.9), with Alamo Regional Stanford No. 1 seed in second place with 32.7. In Sweet 16 wins, Baylor allowed Michigan to shoot 46% and UConn allowed Iowa to shoot 43.3%.
Baylor took a COVID-19 hiatus in January after Mulkey contracted the coronavirus, which is why Geno Auriemma’s Huskies and the Lady Bears did not meet then.
“They are two programs that we are very proud of,” Mulkey said. “I’m certainly not going to beat Geno, so it’s best that our players compete and try to outperform their players.
“It’s very difficult to sustain something that is an elite level. You see shows that are Cinderellas, they do this – up and down – then you see that those who stay in the middle, they have good programs. Stay here and we want to play championships.
The Lady Bears are the defending national champions, winning their third title in 2019. UConn has 11 NCAA titles, the most recent in 2016, and has reached 12 consecutive Final Fours. This will be the second time the teams have met in the NCAA tournament. It looked like they would face off for the NCAA title in 2013, when Baylor was the defending champion. But the Lady Bears were upset that year at Sweet 16 for Louisville, and UConn won the first of four consecutive championships behind Breanna Stewart.
The series record is tied 4-4, with the first meeting in the 2010 NCAA tournament semifinals here at the Alamodome. UConn, en route to a perfect second straight season, won 70-50.
Since then, three UConn-Baylor games have been decided by six points or less. Three others had margins of 11 points. Baylor’s 74-58 victory last season in Hartford, Connecticut, was close – 55-52 in three quarters – before the Lady Bears dominated the fourth quarter and edged the Huskies 19-6.
Defense has played an important role in Baylor’s victories over UConn. In the Lady Bears ’68-57 victory in January 2019, they held UConn at 29.4% from the field, the Huskies’ worst shooting percentage in 20 years. In 2020, the Huskies shot slightly worse against Baylor: 29.0%.
After winning their first two NCAA tournament games this year by 49 and 42 points, Baylor had to sweat victory Saturday against a Michigan team that made its first appearance on the Sweet 16.
“The deeper you go, the tougher the opponent will be and the games will be tighter,” Mulkey said. “I guess you could say we did enough on the offensive and defensive end to win the game in overtime.”
Baylor junior NaLyssa Smith, who tied a record for field goal percentage in an NCAA tournament Saturday by going 11 of 11 on the road to 24 points, said of facing UConn: “Oh, we’re so excited is what we thrive on [on] the majority “.