8:30 PM ET, March 3, 2005
WACO, Texas (AP) -- Baylor was a last-place team when Kim Mulkey-Robertson was hired five years ago. Now, the Lady Bears are Big 12 champions.Chelsea Whitaker fought through the pain of a sprained left ankle with 16 points and eight assists, many at key times, and the Lady Bears (No. 8 ESPN/USA Today, No. 7 AP) beat No. 13 Texas Tech 79-69 to clinch their first Big 12 regular season title outright.When the game ended, confetti and balloons showered from the rafters. Whitaker stood on the scoring table holding a newspaper proclaiming the Lady Bears champions as fans stormed the court and music blared.Instead of getting in the middle of the celebration, Mulkey-Robertson stood back to absorb the moment. She tried to fight back tears as she watched her excited players."It has come much faster than I think any of us in this room would have ever imagined," Mulkey-Robertson said. "No, we didn't win a national championship. We know that. But we did something that has never been done."Already assured the tournament's top seed, the Lady Bears (24-3, 14-2 Big 12) made sure they didn't have to share their first title with Texas Tech and No. 11 Texas."We didn't want to share it," Mulkey-Robertson said. "We wanted to finish the job."Whitaker made the game's first shot just 11 seconds into the game. The Lady Bears never trailed and shot a season-high 62 percent (30-of-54).Baylor scored the first six points before a raucous crowd of 10,550 people jammed into the Ferrell Center. It was the largest crowd ever in the 17-year-old arena, for men or women.The Lady Raiders (21-6, 12-4) missed a chance to share their fourth Big 12 title and dropped to the No. 4 seed in the Big 12 tournament in Kansas City next week.Baylor won all 14 home games this season, and stretched its homecourt winning streak to 17 since a loss to Texas Tech late last season.Steffanie Blackmon, playing her last game in Waco, had 17 points and seven rebounds for the Lady Bears. Sophia Young had her 37th straight double-figure scoring game with 15 points and 12 rebounds, while Abiola Wabara had 10 points.Baylor is 122-38 in Mulkey-Robertson's five seasons, the best in the Big 12. The Lady Bears have won 11 in a row overall, with their only losses to No. 1 LSU, in triple overtime at Nebraska and against Texas.LaToya Davis led Texas Tech with 19 points and eight rebounds, while Cisti Greenwalt and Judith Smith had 14 points each. Greenwalt blocked three shots, pushing her season total to a Big 12 record 93.When Texas Tech got within 15-12 on Darrice Griffin's 3-pointer midway through the first half, Whitaker sparked a 12-0 run.Whitaker drove for a layup and then stole a pass that led to Emily Niemann's 3-pointer to start. After Griffin traveled, Niemann hit another 3-pointer and Whitaker blocked a shot before making another shot.By the time Whitaker passed to Chameka Scott for a layup less then three minutes after she started the run, the Lady Bears led 27-12."It's the worst thing that can happen when you're the visiting team," Lady Raiders coach Marsha Sharp said. "It felt like a Final Four game tonight. Baylor played great. We matched that with our intensity and aggressiveness, we just didn't get the stops we needed."It also was during that run when Whitaker twisted her ankle going for a loose ball. She was back just four minutes later, but she limped into the postgame interview session with an ice bag taped to her ankle."What a warrior," Mulkey-Robertson said."After three knee surgeries, I think the ankle will be OK," said Whitaker, who had eight points and five assists before her injury. "But it felt like knives stabbing me in my foot. But after I got warm, I wasn't feeling it."Tech's best stretch came near the end of the first half when it scored points on eight straight possessions. The Raiders were within 36-33 when Erin Grant threw an inbound pass to Davis for a layup, ending an 8-0 run.Whitaker, who scored just 10 points in two games since a 20-point second half in a win against Iowa State, drove for a layup just before halftime for a 40-34 lead.The Lady Raiders got within 42-39 early in the second half, then Baylor scored three straight baskets and its lead dropped below seven points only twice -- never closer than five.
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