Provided to Big12Sports.com
DENVER - Baylor center Brittney Griner sat at her locker at the Pepsi Center on Tuesday night with a new "friend" nearby. The national championship trophy that she and the Lady Bears worked all season to get now was right there next to her.
Then she heard teammate Brooklyn Pope screaming, "Obama!" Griner immediately looked over, thinking perhaps someone was on the phone with the president.
"Wait … who?" Griner said.
Then Pope continued, "We get to meet Obama!"
"Oh, I thought … my bad," Griner continued, chuckling with reporters.
Yes, Griner will have to wait a little while to meet Barack Obama, and by then she'll have had some time to really reflect on what the Lady Bears did this season in becoming the first NCAA hoops team to finish 40-0.
In the immediate aftermath of Tuesday's 80-61 victory over Notre Dame in the NCAA final, Griner put it in this perspective: "It is amazing. I'm almost lost for words. The only thing that would make it any better is if my mom was here, but I know she's at home with my little nephew rooting me on. My first weekend free, I'm going home to see her."
Home is Houston, where Griner grew up but never won a championship at the high school level. Neither did her Baylor teammate Odyssey Sims of Irving, Texas. But they have one now, and it's the third for a women's basketball team during the Big 12's existence.
Baylor won the first in 2005 behind Sophia Young, who was among the former Lady Bears in the crowd Tuesday. Texas A&M won last year. And the Aggies might even take a little pride in knowing that they helped spur this year's Baylor championship. All year, Baylor's motto was "unfinished business" in regard to the Lady Bears' Elite Eight loss to Texas A&M last year in Dallas.
"We finished it," Griner said. "There is no more unfinished business. It's done business."
Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said, "I'm going to take that band off that says 'unfinished business' and I'm going to put it somewhere in my office. We're going to move on and enjoy the off-season and then get started again next year.
"What does it feel like? It's the ultimate in sports is to win the national championship. I said it back in '05, and I'll say it today: I am blessed to coach kids who believe in me. The excitement and the fun for me is for those players. And to look in those stands and see those fans spend money, take the time to come here, and how much they enjoy it and how proud they are. That's what makes me happy."
Baylor's victory ended a very successful season for Big 12 basketball, which had teams in the men's (Kansas) and women's nation championship game. Oklahoma State, which endured a terrible tragedy this season with the loss of coaches Kurt Budke and Miranda Serna in a November plane crash, also gave the Big 12 another title with the WNIT championship.
Seven teams from the Big 12 made the NCAA tournament field, including Kansas, which ended a 12-year drought from the Big Dance. The Jayhawks made the most of their at-large bid, upsetting Nebraska and Delaware before falling in the regional final to Tennessee. It was Kansas' first Sweet 16 appearance since 1998. Texas A&M also made it to the Sweet 16
Baylor, though, was the league's top story from start to finish. The Lady Bears were the third Big 12 team to conclude regular-season league play undefeated. But because the conference now has 10 teams and plays a full round-robin schedule, Baylor's league record was 18-0, compared to the 16-0 marks of previous champs Oklahoma (2006) and Nebraska (2010).
Baylor won its second consecutive Big 12 tournament title – and fourth overall _ by 23 points over Texas A&M. That was the largest margin in the Big 12 final, and gave a good indication of how ready the Lady Bears were for their NCAA run.
Baylor, one of four No. 1 seeds to advance to Denver, was never really threatened in NCAA play. Their closest game was a 59-47 national semifinal win over Stanford; the Lady Bears won their six NCAA tournament games by an average of 20.8 points.
Tuesday's game against Notre Dame was a microcosm of the season. Griner led the way with 26 points, 13 rebounds and five blocked shots. Sims had 19 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Destiny Williams had 12 points and six rebounds. Jordan Madden didn't score, but she had five assists, six rebounds, and a whole lot to do with why Notre Dame senior Natalie Novosel missed all 11 of her shot attempts and finished with just five points on free throws.
Baylor shot 50 percent from the field while holding Notre Dame to 35.5. All season, Mulkey stressed taking pride in defense, and that theme carried right through to the end.
"Our defense led us throughout the whole year," Williams said. "We frustrated our opponents, made every shot that they took a hard one. We as a team just denied the ball, getting blocks and rotating correctly."
Griner swept the individual player of the year awards, but throughout the tournament, Baylor relied heavily on more than just her. Griner was one fabulous facet of the Lady Bears, but the entire group was needed to achieve perfection.
So what's next? Baylor became the seventh women's hoops team to finish undefeated in the NCAA era, which began in 1981-82. And the Lady Bears bring back all their starters.
Mulkey has been dealing Bell's palsy – an ailment that causes some usually temporary facial paralysis – for the past week, and coached throughout the Final Four despite its affects on her. She said it was mostly just annoying, not debilitating, but it was a sign of her toughness that she never seemed any different on the sidelines.
"If you ask kids to play through sprained ankles and stitches, this is nothing," she said.
To her, a big difference between this year and the 2005 championship experience was that the expectations were so high in 2012. This time, Baylor couldn't sneak up on anyone. The Lady Bears won't be able to do that next season, either.
They're sure to be the preseason No. 1 pick and the Big 12 favorite for 2012-13. The league will lose Texas A&M and Missouri, but gains West Virginia and TCU. The Big 12 is sure to be challenging again, but Baylor will try to duplicate UConn's feat of having back-to-back perfect seasons.
For Tuesday, though, Baylor just wanted to relish what happened out here in the Rockies: reaching a never-before-achieved summit of 40-0.
"I don't cry often," Mulkey said. "But I cry when I'm happy. I was so happy for all of them. You want it for your kids and your players."
NCAA Championship Scores:
2012 - Baylor 80, Notre Dame 61
2011 - Texas A&M 76, Notre Dame 70
2010 - Connecticut 53, Stanford 47
2009 - Connecticut 76, Louisville 54
2008 - Tennessee 64, Stanford 48
2007 - Tennessee 59, Rutgers 46
2006 - Maryland 78, Duke 75, OT
2005 - Baylor 84, Michigan State 62
2004 - Connecticut 70, Tennessee 61
2003 - Connecticut 73, Tennessee 68
2002 - Connecticut 82, Oklahoma 70
2001 - Notre Dame 68, Purdue 66
2000 - Connecticut 71, Tennessee 52
1999 - Purdue 62, Duke 45
1998 - Tennessee 93, Louisiana Tech 75
1997 - Tennessee 68, Old Dominion 59
1996 - Tennessee 83, Georgia 65
1995 - Connecticut 70, Tennessee 64
1994 - North Carolina 60, Louisiana Tech 59
1993 - Texas Tech 84, Ohio State 82
1992 - Stanford 78, Western Kentucky 62
1991 - Tennessee 70, Virginia 67, OT
1990 - Stanford 88, Auburn 81
1989 - Tennessee 76, Auburn 60
1988 - Louisiana Tech 56, Auburn 54
1987 - Tennessee 67, Louisiana Tech 44
1986 - Texas 97, Southern Cal 81
1985 - Old Dominion 70, Georgia 65
1984 - Southern Cal 72, Tennessee 61
1983 - Southern Cal 69, Louisiana Tech 67
1982 - Louisiana Tech 76, Cheyney 62
NCAA Women's Final Four MOPs
2012 - Brittney Griner, Baylor
2011 - Danielle Adams, Texas A&M
2010 - Maya Moore, Connecticut
2009 - Tina Charles, Connecticut
2008 - Candace Parker, Tennessee
2007 - Candace Parker, Tennessee
2006 - Laura Harper, Maryland
2005 - Sophia Young, Baylor
2004 - Diana Taurasi, Connecticut
2003 - Diana Taurasi, Connecticut
2002 - Swin Cash, Connecticut
2001 - Ruth Riley, Notre Dame
2000 - Shea Ralph, Connecticut
1999 - Ukari Figgs, Purdue
1998 - Chamique Holdsclaw, Tennessee
1997 - Chamique Holdsclaw, Tennessee
1996 - Michelle Marciniak, Tennessee
1995 - Rebecca Lobo, Connecticut
1994 - Charlotte Smith, North Carolina
1993 - Sheryl Swoopes, Texas Tech
1992 - Molly Goodenbour, Stanford
1991 - Dawn Staley, Virginia
1990 - Jennifer Azzi, Stanford
1989 - Bridgette Gordon, Tennessee
1988 - Erica Westbrooks, Louisiana Tech
1987 - Tonya Edwards, Tennessee
1986 - Clarissa Davis, Texas
1985 - Tracy Claxton, Old Dominion
1984 - Cheryl Miller, Southern Cal
1983 - Cheryl Miller, Southern Cal
1982 - Janice Lawrence, Louisiana Tech
Women's NCAA Championship Winningest Coaches:
Pat Summitt, Tennessee, 8
Geno Auriemma, Connecticut, 7
Kim Mulkey, Baylor, 2
Linda Sharp, Southern Cal, 2
Tara VanDerveer, Stanford, 2
Leon Barmore, Louisiana Tech, 1
Gary Blair, Texas A&M, 1
Jody Conradt, Texas, 1
Brenda Frese, Maryland, 1
Sylvia Hatchell, North Carolina, 1
Sonja Hogg, Louisiana Tech, 1
Muffet McGraw, Notre Dame, 1
Carolyn Peck, Purdue, 1
Marsha Sharp, Texas Tech, 1
Marianne Stanley, Old Dominion, 1
Most victories in an NCAA Division I women's college basketball season:
40-0 - Baylor, 2012, won championship
39-0 - Connecticut, 2010, won championship
39-0 - Connecticut, 2009, won championship
39-0 - Connecticut, 2002, won championship
39-0 - Tennessee, 1998, won championship
37-1 - Connecticut, 2003, won championship