Baylor coach Kim Mulkey could not have been more clear that Monday’s game against the Huskies at the XL Center carries little importance at this point in the season. The goal for top-ranked Lady Bears is to outright win their third straight Big 12 regular season championship.
The game is good for the sport. Mulkey knows that. But …
“Let me just make it perfectly clear,’’ Mulkey said. “We have four games, three games, whatever the rest of this month. The least important one is UConn. It is a great game that we agreed to play. But it’s great for the fans. It’s great for TV. And it’s great for women’s basketball. I’m not sure winning it means anything. I’m not sure getting beat means anything, for either team. It’s not going to take a No. 1 seed away from us if we lose. It’s not going to cement a No. 1 seed if we win.
“If you win people will say, `Well, you should win.’ If you lose, people will say, `Well, who really is the No. 1 No. 1 seed?’ It will be a great game for TV and a great game for fans. But we’re kind of caught in the middle of clinching (a Big 12 championship) and sharing one and there’s UConn. And we’re going to play like any competitor does. Tough, hard, be prepared, ready to go. But if this was the Final Four or the NCAA playoffs then it would mean a heck of a lot more.’’
UConn coach Geno Auriemma is not buying into this whole winning a conference championship thing. He is a firm believer that what you do during the regular season is to prepare your team to make a run in the NCAA tournament.
“We’re all trying to win conference championships,’’ Auriemma said. “Not everybody can, but we’re all trying to. And I don’t know how a game tomorrow night at 9 o’clock is going to impact one way or the other our ability to win the Big East championship or not. So I never looked at it that way. So you win the regular season conference championship and you lose in the second round in March. Do you think anybody’s going to have a parade for you because you won the conference championship? I’m almost to the point now where everything you do the entire season … Yeah, Goal No. 1: Win the regular season. Goal No. 2: Win the conference tournament. Goal No. 3: Get in the NCAA tournament and win the national championship. I understand all that. That’s everybody’s goal. But I think most of us in our situation everything we do from October 15 to the end of February is to get ready for March.’’
This game could be a preview of the national championship game in New Orleans April 9. For the Huskies, it’s a chance to avenge a 66-61 loss at Baylor last season when they blew an 11-point lead in the second half and to assess exactly where they stand at this juncture in the season.
“It’s big for us,’’ UConn sophomore Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis said. “It’s going to be a big test to see how much we’ve grown since the beginning of the season, how much we can overcome adversity. A lot of times in these big games we’ll get up and then we’ll start going through offensive droughts and the teams will take advantage of it. Last year we were up 11 points at Baylor and we gave that lead up. So we’ve got to make sure that once we get a lead we keep it and we keep playing hard.’’
“I think we’re both really good teams, but if you’re playing a sport you always want to be known as the best. You want to prove to yourself at least that you guys are the best. And I feel if we play Connecticut basketball, we use all of our weapons, play inside-outside then I think we’ll win.’’