According to Baylor coach Kim Mulkey, the months of January and February represent the time to put yourself in prime position to win a conference championship. It is not necessarily the time to play a high-profile non-conference game on the road.
The top-ranked Lady Bears clinched at least a tie for the Big 12 championship with a win over TCU Saturday. They will look to clinch the title outright against Texas Feb. 23. In between, they will face No. 3 UConn at the XL Center Monday (9 p.m.; ESPN2).
The match-up with the Huskies will be the latest that Baylor has played a non-conference game during in 13 seasons under Mulkey. Had it not been for the urging of ESPN officials, this game might not have been scheduled at all.
“The timing of it. Going on the road. A two-and-a-half hour flight. Getting back at 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning. Just the timing of it,’’ Mulkey said. “But I agreed to it because it is good for women’s basketball. I don’t know (UConn coach) Geno (Auriemma’s) Big East schedule, but I know the timing of ours is that I don’t want anything to take away from us having an opportunity to clinch an outright championship the next game when we get back from UConn. Initially, I said, `No.’ And just had a lot of phone calls from television, ESPN people, to give me their push why we should and I agreed to do it.
“I think it goes against what you’re trying to do with your program. Our program, really selfishly, is the most important thing in January and February to try to get to the postseason and to win a conference championship. But yet, at the same time, you feel a sense of a responsibility to do what’s good for the women’s game and keep the fan interest there and I understand that too. Which one is more important to me? It’s going to be Baylor University. But we’ll go and we’ll give it our best shot and I’m sure they will too. It should be a fantastic game. I just don’t want people to overemphasize it.’’
The latest non-conference game under Mulkey had been an 88-57 loss at LSU Jan. 20, 2006. That was also televised on ESPN2.
Auriemma also does not see this game as being ideal at this point in the season. But playing a non-conference game in February is nothing new for the Huskies over the past few seasons.
UConn faced Oklahoma on Feb. 13, 14 and 15 over the past three seasons, respectively. The Huskies also faced LSU Feb. 25, 2008 and Feb. 11, 2007 and Texas Feb. 12, 2006.
“I think it’s good in the sense that you kind of get away from the conference games for a while,’’ Auriemma said. “It’s a game that really doesn’t affect your ability to win a championship. Every conference game has an impact on whether you win the Big East regular season championship or not. This game doesn’t. And I think any time you can do that, to just play a game that’s kind of a preview of the kind of game you hope to play in March I think it’s always good. Regardless of whether it’s January, February.
“It’s not ideal in the middle of February. I think by now you’d like to just kind of be in a rhythm. But I think it’s good for your younger guys to see this is what potentially it could look like in March. So in that respect I think it’s pretty good.’’