The Baylor Lady Bears sat down only once before the season to discuss the tragedy and scandal surrounding the school's other basketball team.
When coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson was sure her players were OK, she challenged them.
|Kim Mulkey-Robertson and Baylor have posted their fourth straight 20-win season.|
The Lady Bears (26-8) went on to their fourth straight 20-win season, and didn't stop there. They are in the NCAA round of 16 for the first time and play top-seeded Tennessee on Sunday night (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2) in Norman, Okla. in the Midwest Regional.
Like the rest of the Baylor community, the Lady Bears were hurt and shocked over the shooting death last summer of Patrick Dennehy and the results of the ensuing investigation.
A former teammate of Dennehy's was charged with murder. There were also revelations of serious NCAA violations that forced the resignation of coach Dave Bliss.
"Our hearts hurt, but we needed to step forward for ourselves and focus on what we had to do,'' senior Jessika Stratton said. "We're excited that something positive is going on. It's good timing.''
After a 91-76 win over Florida in a second-round NCAA game Monday, Mulkey-Robertson said the team's success was "good medicine'' for the school.
"The Lady Bears' success has provided Baylor with a wonderful success story to rally around after a most difficult series of events last summer,'' said athletic director Ian McCaw, hired in September to replace Tom Stanton, who resigned along with Bliss.
At least eight busloads of fans will make the five-hour trip from Waco to Norman on Sunday.
"There is no question morale has improved dramatically over the last several months,'' McCaw said. "There is a real sense of momentum around Baylor athletics.''
Not only in women's basketball.
McCaw likes the progress being made by football coach Guy Morriss and men's basketball coach Scott Drew, both at Baylor just one season.
While Drew's team went 8-21, the energetic coach maintained a positive outlook with just six scholarship players most of the season. Baylor's top three scorers had transferred to NCAA Tournament teams.
The Lady Bears are within one of the school record of 27 wins after overcoming their own adversity. They have just nine healthy players after a series of injuries and the January dismissal of their starting point guard for violating team rules.
"It's amazing what a team can accomplish, and an individual player can accomplish, when faced with adversity,'' Mulkey-Robertson said.
Seven of Baylor's eight losses are to teams ranked 17th or better in the latest Associated Press poll. The only losses in its last 10 games were against No. 4 Texas, 73-72 in double overtime at Austin and 63-59 in the Big 12 tournament.
Steffanie Blackmon, Baylor's second-leading scorer (15.6 ppg) and rebounder (6.9 rpg), reinjured her right knee in the Big 12 tournament. The 6-foot junior post player is out for the season.
Expected starters Chanelle Fox (knee surgery) and Jordan Davis (blood clots in her lungs) were lost before the season opener. Still, the Lady Bears got off to a 12-1 start.
"It's a situation that you either rise to the occasion and respond, or don't,'' Stratton said. "There was no question we had to respond. For us to be a good team, we had to respond to every situation.''