3-21-08 -- When Baylor won the national championship in 2005, the Lady Bears entered the NCAA tournament on a 14-game winning streak.
They’ll have to take a different path this season, as the third-seeded Lady Bears hope to end a three-game losing streak when they face first-time qualifier and No. 14 seed Fresno State in a first-round game Saturday in Albuquerque.
Baylor (24-6) earned the No. 3 seed in the Spokane Regional despite dropping the final two games of the regular season and falling 76-61 to unranked Texas in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament.
“We will have to forget about those games and not dwell on them, because we can’t go into a tournament like that,” forward Rachel Allison said. “… I think we’re going to get another chance to show what we’re all about.”
The 12th-ranked Lady Bears’ season has been divided by an injury to starting guard Jhasmin Player, who suffered a season-ending knee tear against Kansas State on Feb. 2.
Baylor is just 4-5 without Player in the lineup after starting the season 20-1. The Lady Bears have had to rely more heavily on leading scorer Angela Tisdale, a senior guard who has averaged 18.1 points but shot just 30.9 percent from the field since the Kansas State game.
Player had been averaging 12.2 points, and her absence has hurt Baylor’s depth. Freshmen Kelli Griffin and Melissa Jones have been forced to log bigger minutes in Baylor’s seven-player rotation, which coach Kim Mulkey said could be a problem in the NCAA tournament.
“They will have to play, and they will be nervous. That is to be expected,” Mulkey said. “… And sometimes when you only have seven you can’t defend as well as you could if you had a breather, but we have dealt with it all year.”
They have allowed 64.2 points per game without Player, after permitting an average of 53.6 points with her in the lineup. Their offensive numbers have similarly diminished.
Fresno State’s season has swung in the opposite direction after the Bulldogs (22-10) started the season with six straight losses.
But they’ve won 20 of their last 22 games, including their last six, capturing the WAC title with a 72-56 win over New Mexico State to earn the first NCAA tournament berth in the 43-year history of the program.
“It’s going to be mind-blowing to be there, to set history,” senior guard Tierre Wilson said.
Wilson, the WAC player of the year, leads the Bulldogs with 15.4 points and 3.3 assists per game. The other part of Fresno State’s backcourt duo is freshman Jaleesa Ross, who averages 12.8 points and had at least 20 in all three games of the WAC tournament, earning MVP honors.
The schools have met before in the postseason, with Baylor winning 72-65 in the quarterfinals of the 2003 WNIT.
The Lady Bears have earned an NCAA tournament bid for five straight years since, but last season was the first time since 2002 they didn’t advance to at least the regional semifinals. As a No. 5 seed, they lost 78-72 to North Carolina State in the second round.
Baylor has plenty of experience in Albuquerque in the NCAA tournament, advancing to its first-ever regional semifinal with two wins there in 2004, then losing to eventual national champion Maryland at the Pit in the regional semifinals in 2006.