Women’s NCAA tourney preview: Baylor prepares for role as heavy favorite against WKU

Lady Tops in Texas

Baylor women’s basketball head coach Kim Mulkey answers questions during a media conference at The Ferrell Center, in Waco, Texas, Friday, March 21, 2014. (Alex Slitz/Daily News)

WACO, Texas — Things officially kicked off in Waco, Texas, today with all participants at the first- and second-round games at Baylor holding news conferences and practices today at the arena.

That includes Western Kentucky and Baylor, who meet at 5:30 p.m. CDT Saturday on ESPN2.

Here are comments from Baylor coach Kim Mulkey and seniors Odyssey Sims and Makenzie Robertson about their first-round matchup. Western Kentucky is scheduled to hit the podium later this afternoon.

KIM MULKEY

On her one-game suspension for the opener against WKU: “Let me answer that, if I may, and be long-winded here. Quit writing about me being suspended, because really, the game is not about me, and the focus doesn’t need to be about me. I’m suspended. I don’t regret being suspended. I’m gonna fight for my team, and that’s why I’m suspended. But it’s about those players, and I don’t care what happens tomorrow. Win or lose, it won’t be because I am or am not on the sideline. OK? I say that in all honesty, because those guys that will be leading the charge tomorrow, they’re my right hand, my left hand. They do everything for me. They do the scouting reports, who we need to guard. I just every now and then call a timeout. Let the focus be about the team. That’s why really suspending me, that wasn’t the answer. It takes the focus away from the team, and this is about the student-athletes.”

Not being at the arena: “How is it going to be? I’m going to sit down there. I’m going to have a big plate of food. I’m not going to come up here and watch the other game. I’m going to watch it on TV as well. If I don’t like the way it’s going or not enjoying it, I’ll go out in the yard and pick weeds, and every now and then walk in the back door and check the score. I’m not nervous about it. I’m not uptight about it. I’m very confident in everybody that will be in that locker room.”

WKU’s players other than Gooch: “They’ve got the freshman of the year in Noble. That’s a pretty good, athletic league. To have the defensive player of the year, the freshman of the year … that speaks volumes. I go back many, many years to the Paul Sanderford days at Western Kentucky. When I was an assistant at Louisiana-Tech, we had many battles. That program, if you haven’t followed women’s basketball for a long time, that program has a storied history. They’ve been to Final Fours, they’ve played for a national championship, I used to recruit some of the players he had in that program. To see it come back tells you about their coach who played there. There’s a lot of pride there. She is to be complimented on what she’s done there in a short period of time.”

Any similarities between Heard and Paul Sanderford and Jeff Walz: “Maybe some of the zone stuff, but she’s pressing – three-quarters press, and I don’t recall Jeff’s teams at Louisville doing much of that. … I’m sure she has to do what is best for her personnel, but she presses a lot. I can’t remember if Paul did a lot of that. I’m remember back in the day, he would triangle-and-2 us at Louisiana Tech when we had two of the great shooters. She’s probably learned lots of different types of junk defenses, but she seems committed to her zones and her presses. It’s been very successful for her.”

Baylor’s young players’ nerves: “I think once they tip it off, and once they score a basket or do something good, they’ll relax. I anticipate they’ll perform the way they have all year. The two-week layoff is a concern because I don’t know how it will affect us. It gave us time to heal bodies, but you’ll be a little rusty.”

More on their inexperience: “I don’t know that you can say we’re inexperienced now. I tend to think the Big 12 prepares you for the postseason. If we were in a weak conference, you may be a little hesitant to wonder how they’re going to perform in the postseason. But our league prepares you for it.”

Keeping players focused on early games: “I take it one step at a time. When you look at who we play tomorrow, Western Kentucky won that tournament. Western Kentucky is good.”

Drawing fans: “What’s good about our being able to host the first and second rounds, if you look, we put people in the stands. That, quite honestly, has been a problem with women’s basketball. We’re separate from the men, and we don’t need to pretend to compete with what how the men do it. It is always disappointing when you watch a women’s NCAA playoff game on TV, and there’s nobody in the stands. You know when you put a first- or second-round game at Baylor – whether we’re in it or not – we love our women’s basketball here.”

ODYSSEY SIMS

Baylor practicing Friday after its news conference in Waco, Texas.

Baylor practicing Friday after its news conference in Waco, Texas.

Playing this week without Mulkey: “I think she’s prepared us all week. She’s done a good job of helping us out as much as she can. I think we’ll need to step up a lot more than we’ve ever done before, just because it’s something new to us.”

On WKU: “They switch up their defenses. They press throughout the whole game. You never really know what defense they’re in. Try to make you play a little faster than what we’re used to, rush shots, turn the ball over – just create havoc. We’ve been working on it all week. We just can’t let their defense dictate how we play on offense.”

MAKENZIE ROBERTSON

Playing without Mulkey, her mother: “It’s going to be obvious that we’re missing her. She’s kind of dominating over there. Not easy to miss, but we’re ready, and she’s prepared us. We have a great staff and assistant coaches that we trust.”

On WKU: “They also have some posts that can do it all. They shoot 3s, they’ll take charges, run the floor. We’ll have to play as a team.”

Two-week layoff before playing again: “The best thing that could’ve happened was the two weeks because it gave everyone a chance to kind of rest up and recover with our bodies. It gave us enough time, but now that it’s kind of dragging on and we’re right here, I think everyone’s just ready to play.”

On assistant coach Bill Brock: “Coach Brock is probably not quite as crazy as my mom, but he has the intensity and competitiveness. He knows how to reach out to us as players.”

BILL BROCK, assistant who will coach against WKU

On coaching against WKU: “It’s not like I haven’t been around the program a lot and know the offenses and defenses and stuff. There will be no surprises. The coaches have been involved in all the preparation. We’re going to try to carry out the plan.”

Differences from WKU: “There’s going to be two different things – one is the kind of personality on the sideline, and the second thing is I’m definitely going to lose the wardrobe contest.”

On Western Kentucky: “What I see is a very determined team that plays hard. They change defenses a lot and try to causes confusion on the defensive end of the floor. You’ve got to make sure you make good decisions with the basketball in your hand. That’ll be a main focus of our two point guards. They’ve got to know where the next pass needs to go and how we’re supposed to attack. They’re a very good team. In fact, I think they’re a little bit under-seeded. I think they should’ve been seeded a little higher, I really do.”

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