Baylor doubles up on boards to top MSU
INDIANAPOLIS -- During Michigan State's news conference Monday, coach Joanne P. McCallie talked extensively about her team's dismal rebounding in the Spartans' win over Tennessee in the semifinals.
Her game plan against Baylor: "Get some." And try to find a way to contain Baylor's talented frontcourt combo of Sophia Young and Steffanie Blackmon.
On Tuesday, following Baylor's 84-62 rout, McCallie was less inclined to talk about the Spartans' rebounding woes, which were even more bleak than the previous games. The Lady Bears outrebounded the Spartans 45-22, including 16-3 on the offensive boards and 29-19 defensively.
Instead, she wanted to talk about beauty and grace -- two adjectives she used to describe the play of Young and Blackmon.
"They were just great together," McCallie said. "They're two terrific post players. I think the interesting thing about them is they don't really have to use the low block at all. They can, what I call, 'free flow.' They can go anywhere. So they will hit shots from the high post, the mid-post. They will step out and make it much more harder to double. It's much harder to dig at them because they're constantly moving.
"I caught myself watching them on occasion and said I better stop that and get back to coaching the game," she said.
Unfortunately, Young, the junior forward from the Caribbean island of St. Vincent, and Blackmon, the senior center from Dallas, made McCallie's job very difficult Tuesday night at the RCA Dome. They hit each other for open shots, drove the lane and when MSU double-downed on them, they found a way to hit another open teammate -- usually Emily Niemann, who contributed 19 points off the bench.
Young was the game's high scorer with 26 points along with nine rebounds and Blackmon added 22 points and seven boards. Those are significant numbers considering two of Baylor's other starters -- Abiola Wabara and Chelsea Whitaker -- went scoreless.
But both Young and Blackmon were especially proud of their efforts on the boards.
"I thought it was a great team effort," said Blackmon, who averaged 7.9 rebounds this season. "I think a couple of times somebody would tip the ball and somebody would come and get it. People running down rebounds -- long rebounds -- so rebounding is always the emphasis for us every game."
Added Young: "I think that they're a team that's pretty hard to get around to, so more than likely the ball will be tipped all the time. But like Steffanie said, emphasis is always on rebounding and I think we did a pretty good job tonight."
Young, Baylor's leading rebounder in 21 games, ends her junior season riding a 46-game streak of double-figure scoring performances. She had led the Lady Bears in scoring in 21 games, with 40 games of at least 20 points, and has also produced 17 games with at least 10 rebounds.
Blackmon has been Baylor's leading rebounder in 15 games and leading scorer 12 times. She has nine 20-point games and six games with 10 or more rebounds. Playing in her last collegiate game, Blackmon ends her career as Baylor's all-time leading free-throw shooter and third-leading scorer. Those accomplishments are real to her. Winning a national championship, however, was still very surreal about an hour after she and her teammates cut down the nets.
"The thing about this team -- every team in America is going to say that they want to win a national championship," said Blackmon. "But you really had to believe it -- that it was feasible, that it was a reality that we could achieve. We really just went out there and really just took it one game at a time and kept going until we got here.
"This team was so mature. It helps that we've had a core of people here for two or three years. That's good because we got that bonding, that chemistry down," she said.
Blackmon's chemistry with Young has been key for the Lady Bears for the past three seasons. Baylor is 7-2 when both score 20 or more points. And this season, the Bears are 5-1 when both have recorded double-doubles. That one loss was against Nebraska in overtime.
"It's just an instinct with us because we know where to look for each other," Blackmon said.
Her coach, however, thinks it goes a little deeper.
"You saw it tonight," Baylor's Kim Mulkey-Robertson said. "They pass to each other very well, they're very unselfish. They just want to win. When you have two post players that have individual talent like each of them have, but yet they incorporate it into a team and they're very unselfish, you count your blessings because that's very special."
But all good and special things must come to an end. And Tuesday night was the last time that Blackmon and Young will play together, at least in college. Young said that she'd miss Blackmon, her mentor and friend. Blackmon said she'd miss Young, too, but that she's ready to move on in life.
"This is something special and this is the only way I'd want to go out," Blackmon said. "So, it's not really bittersweet. I just couldn't see myself crying because I had lost my last game in my college career. So I only have tears of joy."
Miki Turner is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.