The 2013-2014 season for the Baylor Lady Bears ended a few minutes ago in a 88-69 loss to #1 seed Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish ran their unbeaten streak this season to 36 games, including 28 at home. Odyssey Sims led all scorers with 33 points in the game to end 8 short of the national record, while ND's Jewell Lloyd put in 30 of her own. Notre Dame will now play the winner of Louisville-Maryland from the Louisville Region. Click here for a full box score from this game.
I don't mind losing games because you get outplayed; that was the Fiesta Bowl. I mind losing in a situation where not only is the deck stacked against you at the outset, but you also have to overcome a force acting against you throughout; that was tonight.
I understand that the Women's Tournament doesn't make nearly as much money as the Men's, creating the necessity for some Tournament games to be played at host sites where they don't have to pay to book the venues, they can virtually guarantee significant paid attendance, and only one team has to travel. It's been that way as long as I can remember for the earlier games in the Rounds of 64 and 32. While obviously unfair in that situation, as well, I'm willing to accept the practicality of it in a sport that probably doesn't pay for itself. Upsets in the early rounds are extremely rare and I find it hard to believe home court makes a meaningful difference, anyway.
That's not the case with the Sweet Sixteen or Elite Eight, where the matchups are significantly closer and upsets happen much more frequently, if not regularly. There, home court advantage and everything that comes along with it from the crowd to the refs can be substantial, if not determinative factors. I'm not prepared to accept giving, for example, a #1 seed in a region that kind of an advantage over the #2. It's clearly not fair, just as it wasn't in an earlier round, and the injustice of it is magnified significantly by the relative parity of the teams. There's no way they would ever allow it to happen in the Men's Tournament, nor is it at all likely to be tolerated in any playoff scenario in CFB. The goal of a seeded tournament is to promote late matchups of low seeds in competitive, level environments. Allowing one team to play for a chance at the Final Four on their home court defeats that goal.
Tonight, Notre Dame clearly benefited from playing at home, in front of a crowd composed almost entirely of their fans, with refs cowed by the atmosphere. Their coach said as much in the interview at halftime. I couldn't hear her since the interviews weren't broadcast, but I'm betting Mulkey said in the post-game. It's not coincidence that Baylor ended up losing by 19 points a game in which they shot 15 fewer free throws, were called for 8 more fouls (most of which were beyond awful), and lost their second-best player, Nina Davis, with nearly seven minutes to go in the game.
My point in all this is that Notre Dame was a #1 seed in this Tournament. They didn't need the help. But because of the NCAA's ridiculous system, they got it. They were able to chant "Our house!" in the waning minutes of the game, and it was true. That's not ok in the Elite Eight of the biggest tournament in the sport.
All that aside, fans of the Lady Bears said goodbye tonight to one of the two best players in program history in Odyssey Sims after a season in which she almost single-handedly lifted a young, "rebuilding" team to not only a Big 12 Championship, but the Elite Eight, as well. When, not if, good things happen for Kim Mulkey's program in the future, they will point to this season as a big reason why.