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All-American point guard Skylar Diggins did all she could to keep the Irish (36-4) in the game, scoring 20 points. But senior Natalie Novosel had just five points, going 0 for 11 from the field. Devereaux Peters, also playing in her final game, was saddled with foul trouble because of Griner. She scored seven points.
Diggins "played a great game," McGraw said. "She’s just a big-time player and she didn’t get a lot of help today."
Like Griner, Diggins has pledged to return for her senior year — both could join the WNBA draft — for a third run at the title.
Notre Dame had an early 9-8 lead before Baylor took over with a 12-2 spurt. The Irish were down by 14 in the first half before cutting their deficit to 34-28 at the break. They got as close as 42-39 and had the ball, but Griner asserted herself, scoring nine of the next 19 points for Baylor to seal the victory.
"They went on a run there," Diggins said. "I just remember we cut it down to three and they went on a run. I saw 10, 12, 14, 16, 19. We couldn’t get rebounds when they missed shots."
Odyssey Sims added 19 points and Destiny Williams had 12 for the Lady Bears, who outrebounded Notre Dame 46-27 and now have the third unbeaten season in women’s basketball in the last four years. UConn, which has gone undefeated four times, did it in 2009 and 2010. Texas and Tennessee also have unbeaten seasons.
Baylor’s victory also gave President Barack Obama some bragging rights. He correctly picked Baylor to beat Notre Dame in the title game.
With 1:04 left and the game well in hand, Mulkey took out Griner and the two shared a long hug. The fiery coach then went down the bench and hugged each of her players while holding back tears.
"I’m just so happy," Mulkey said. "That old saying, ‘you’re so happy you cry.’ I can’t quit crying.’"
Mulkey, who did her net cutting with daughter Mackenzie — a freshman on the team — and son Kramer, has now won a title as a player (at Louisiana Tech), an Olympic gold medal (in 1984) and two titles as a coach. Only five women’s coaches have more than one championship at the top level of NCAA competition.
Mulkey has downplayed the 40 wins, noting that her former coach and mentor at Louisiana Tech Leon Barmore won 40 games in 1980. That was before women’s basketball was governed by the NCAA, which didn’t begin keeping records until the 1982 season.
It was the second meeting between the teams this season. Baylor also won the first one, by 13 in Waco on Nov. 17. That win gave the Lady Bears the preseason WNIT title.
As usual, Griner put on a show in warm-ups, thrilling the crowd with a series of impressive dunks — including a one-handed throw down, a double-pump slam and another in which she hung on rim. She dunked twice in the tournament, matching Candace Parker for most dunks by a woman in NCAA tournament play and during a college career (seven).
She couldn’t catch one against the Irish.
The Lady Bears had a strong cheering section that included Griffin — dancing in his seat at the end of the game — and country music star Trace Adkins. He was a freshman walk-on football player at Louisiana Tech in the early 1980s when Mulkey was a senior there.
Notre Dame had its own star fan in former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who earned a graduate degree at the school. The Irish were wearing their green uniforms for the first time since last season’s title loss.
It didn’t help. On this night, nothing could stop Griner.
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