Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page

Baylor and Mississippi State are set for Sunday showdown with a Final Four berth in the balance.

Oklahoma City, OK - Regional top seed Baylor (33-3) and second seeded Mississippi State (32-4) will take to the Chesapeake Arena floor on Sunday evening with a chance to advance to the NCAA Women's Final Four.

While these are uncharted waters for the Bulldogs, the Bears have survived the round of sixteen four consecutive years as part of a seven of eight year run. The lone exception for Coach Kim Mulkey's team is 2013.

In the Mulkey era, Baylor has made the NCAA tournament sixteen of seventeen years including two National Championship seasons (2005, 2012). Since winning it all in 2012, the Bears have seen their season stall out just one victory away from the Final Four. For the Baylor seniors, the fourth time will have to be the charm to get into the promised land of college basketball.

"I think when they came to Baylor, they wanted to get to a Final Four," Mulkey said of her team's run. "I think anybody that comes to Baylor wants to get to a Final Four. We've set the bar that high.

"But if they don't make it, I think there are a lot of kids, a lot of programs, that would love to change places with four Elite 8s".

On the other side of the ledger, Mississippi State is looking to make more history of their own. With Friday night's 75-64 win over #3 seed Washington and the most prolific scorer in NCAA women's basketball history, Kelsey Plum, the Bulldogs will hoist an Elite Eight banner in Humphrey Coliseum for the first time.

To hear Coach Vic Schaefer tell it, there is room in the rafters for even more.

"We've had a good film skull session this morning with our team," Schaefer said. "We're excited about the opportunity. Again, I think our league hopefully prepares us for this moment. I think our kids are excited about the opportunity in front of us."

Baylor advances into the Regional Final with three lopsided victories to their credit. In round one, the Bears blew out Texas Southern 119-30, round two brought a forty point win over Cal, 86-46 and on Friday, Louisville ended up on the business end of a 97-63 decision.

"I just think we're hitting on all cylinders right now," Mulkey said. "We knew we had the depth, but the depth sometimes wasn't producing on a consistent basis. You'd have one kid that would have a great night, and the next game you wouldn't hear from them.

"I think right now, if you've seen our three games in the playoffs, they're all hitting on all cylinders. You hope you can extend that."

Mississippi State has won their three tournament games in pretty much the same fashion. The Bulldogs have played a physical brand of basketball and simply ground opponents down in the second half.

In the two tournament games in Starkville, State knocked off Conference-USA Tournament champion, Troy (110-69) and Big East regular season champion DePaul (92-71). Friday's win over Washington also featured the same line-up the Bulldogs have utilized throughout the tournament with some of the regular SEC starters coming in off of the bench.

"We've shuffled our lineup here in the NCAA tournament a little bit," Schaefer said. "I think it's really worked well for us. We've had some kids step up. We actually rolled four new starters out in our regional."

The change in personnel has the attention of Baylor and their coaching staff, but the task at hand remains unchanged.

"It doesn't change anything for us," Mulkey said. "We've got to guard 10 players because even when the other guys were in the starting lineup, he was playing those same players.

"It's just a group is starting now that wasn't starting. In fact, I think he's starting kids now that didn't start an SEC game at all. So he's very confident in his team."

Schaefer has a history with Baylor and Mulkey from his time as an assistant coach at Texas A&M. Now the veteran coach will look to take down one of college basketball's toughest tournament draws with his own gameplan in mind.

"Looking ahead to Baylor, obviously extremely talented, well-coached basketball team," Schaefer said. "I've known Coach Mulkey a long time. Had a little bit of experience dealing with her teams. This team is no different.

"They are big, strong, physical. They were even more impressive -- I told the kids this morning in film, I don't watch a lot of film, I don't watch a lot of games during the season, of people outside of our league. But for some reason, it worked out, I know I saw them more than anyone else outside of our conference.

"Seeing them yesterday in person was really impressive."

Tip-off is set for 6:30 on Sunday. ESPN will handle the television broadcast duties. Tickets remain available. Live radio of the contest can be heard on the Westwood One Radio Network or through HailState.com/plus.


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