In the first meeting ever in women's hoops between the Tigers and Lady Bears, the Women's NIT title will be on the line at 8 p.m. CST at the Ferrell Center after each team won four games to advance to the finals of the 32-team tournament.
In the past, Auburn has turned down invitations to play in the WNIT. It was either the NCAA Tournament or Bust for previous Auburn teams, which normally play in the NCAA.
Auburn coach Joe Ciampi made the policy change for two reasons this year, he says. The first was anxiety about an offseason trip planned to Italy to play a series of six games. Because of the unsettled situation politically overseas in Europe, he made the call to cancel Italy and try the WNIT. The postseason play has given his Tigers a month of extra practice time and five extra games, which the coach says will be helpful for a team that returns almost all of its key players next season.
Baylor, which finished 8-8 in the Big 12 Conference, is 24-10 overall. Auburn is 22-11 following a 73-62 victory at Creighton in the semi-finals as the Tigers ended a 23-game homecourt winning streak for the school located in Omaha, Neb. Auburn took comfortable homecourt victories over South Alabama, FSU and Richmond prior to defeating Creighton.
Baylor defeated Northern Iowa (58-56), Arizona State (85-62), Fresno State (72-65) and Colorado State (78-69) to reach the championship game. The Bears are led by Sophia Jackson and Ebony Jackson, who had big games in the semi-finals.
"Baylor is a team where you have to have a understanding that they have a great inside presence with Blackmon and Young," says Auburn coach Joe Ciampi. "Blackmon is scoring 18 points a ball game with eight rebounds and Young is a freshman with 14 points, leading the conference in rebounds with 9.5 a game. That right there tells us about their inside presence and that is going to be a big concern of ours. They have an SEC size team.
"Their defensive scheme coming from head coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson brings all the aggressiveness in their defensive schemes and their offensive possessions," Ciampi adds. "It is a team that takes on the point guard personality of her's and all the success she has had on the court has transferred in. Their inside game is just outstanding." Mulkey-Robertson, 72-25 as a head coach, is a former standout at Louisiana Tech and is very familiar with Ciampi and his style of play having encountered it as a player.
Auburn has not played any other teams from the Big 12 Conference this year and the Tigers and Bears do not have any common opponents this season.