Nail biter ensues AP following injury to Bears’ Lauren Cox
The Santa Clara
April 11, 2019
Last week, the Lady Bears of Baylor University walked away with hardware in their hands and joy in their hearts after defeating the reigning champion Notre Dame 82-81 on Sunday night in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Final.
This victory earned the Bears their third national title in program history. The team posted a 37-1 record and finished the 2019 season with a 29-game winning streak. The team’s top players included 6-foot-7-inch tall senior Kalani Brown and 6-foot-4-inch junior Lauren Cox. Combined, they have averaged nearly 29 points and 17 rebounds per game.
As a team, Baylor led the country in blocks per game, assists per game, rebounding rate and opponent fieldgoal percentage. For much of the championship game, Baylor continued the dominance they’ve shown all season long. The Bears commanded an early 25-14 lead after the first quarter while fending off the Fighting Irish with their solid defense and star offensive players Brown and Cox.
Early in the third quarter, the Bears led by 12 points. With one minute and 22 seconds left to play in the quarter, Cox came down awkwardly from an attempted rebound and crumpled to the floor grasping her knee.
Fans in the Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla. were silent as Cox left the game in a wheelchair.
At that point, the momentum in the stadium began to shift. Notre Dame somehow managed to come all the way back to tie the game at 74-74 with 5:18 left in the fourth quarter before taking a 77-76 lead with a little more than three minutes left to play. Suddenly, the score was tied at 80 with under 10 seconds remaining.
A driving layup from graduate transfer Chloe Jackson put Baylor ahead by two with 3.9 seconds remaining.
The Irish had a chance to turn the game around when Arike Ogunbowale, the breakout star of last year’s Final Four, was fouled going for the gametying layup. But she missed her first free throw with 1.9 seconds remaining, leaving the Bears with a 1 point lead and an NCAA Championship.
“It’s tough,” Ogunbowale said about the missed free throw. “You can’t really do anything about that one.”
Now using crutches, Cox was back on the sidelines late in the fourth quarter to watch her team’s victory. Once the buzzer sounded and celebration began, the players ran to the bench to embrace her as confetti rained down.
In retrospect, Cox’s injury raised the stakes for her team. Other teammates knew they had to step up in order to clench the title. First-year Nalyssa Smith came in clutch for Baylor. She went 7-for-9, scoring 14 points and picking up six rebounds. Graduate transfer Chloe Jackson had 26 points and five assists. Brown had 20 points and 13 rebounds.
“We had to finish the job for her,” Jackson said on the court after the game. Baylor’s Coach Kim Mulkey was in tears during her post-game interview. She expressed joy for their victory as well as heartbreak for Cox’s injury. “She’s the heart and soul of this team,” Mulkey said of Cox.
The junior superstar was able to make it up the ladder to take part in the celebratory cutting down of the net. While it is too early to tell details about her injury, Cox vowed that she would be ready for her senior season.
“[I will] do whatever I need to do to get it better, whether that’s rehab, whatever it is, I’m going to do it,” she said.
The last time Baylor clinched the title was in 2012 against the Fighting Irish. Even more surprising is that this game was the first championship game since 2012 where both coaches—Notre Dame’s Muffet McGraw and Baylor’s Kim Mulkey— were women.
During a press conference after Notre Dame’s victory over the University of Connecticut days before the championship game, McGraw addressed the issue of gender equality, specifically on her decision to no longer hire male coaches. In her response, McGraw emphasized the need for young women to see people like them in leadership roles across the board.
“When you look at men’s basketball and 99 percent of the jobs go to men, why shouldn’t 100 or 99 percent of the jobs in women’s basketball go to women?” McGraw asked.
More good news for the sport: the NCAA reported its highest attendance in 15 years at the Women’s Final Four and regional playoffs. Time will tell if the women’s basketball fan base will embrace these changes and continue to grow. They certainly can’t ask for more than the high drama of this year’s exceptional championship game.
Contact Lacey Yahnke at lyahnke@ scu.edu or call (408) 554-4852.