At the start of the 2012 NCAA tournament, Kentucky was anointed the best college basketball team in the nation and the Wildcats lived up to the high acclaim by winning the men’s national championship on Monday. Their win was as indelible as it was deserved, but finishing with a 38-2 record, can we really say that Kentucky is the best team in the land?
Don’t get me wrong, the Wildcats, all season long played smart, tough, fast and were superbly coached by John Calipari. They weren’t the most talented team, but they were the most efficient, and Kentucky deserves all the accolades thrown their way. But, again, to be honest, the best team in college basketball this year wasn’t led by Anthony Davis.
On Tuesday, Brittney Griner elevated Baylor University and college basketball to new heights, as she led the top-seeded Lady Bears to 80-61 victory over Notre Dame to capture the women’s NCAA national title and become the first team in men’s and women’s college basketball to finish 40-0. Griner, who was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four, finished with 26 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks to help Baylor win its second national title in school history and become the seventh women’s team in the NCAA era –which began in 1981-82– to finish a season undefeated.
Identical to their national champion counterpart, from day one, high expectations were placed on Baylor to be the best. Coach Kim Mulkey’s Lady Bears from the opening tip of the season embraced the country’s anticipation and far exceeded what any of us had hoped. Like Kentucky, Baylor was relentless in their pursuit for a national title after being bounced by eventual champion Texas A&M in the Elite Eight last year. And like the Wildcats, the Lady Bears played smart, with aggression, toughness and bought into the system that Coach Mulkey instilled. But what separates the Lady Bears from the Wildcats is the fact that Baylor took no days off. They attended to their “unfinished business” with each game, winning by average of 26.3 points and holding opponents to 31.0 percent shooting from the field. With quickness on the perimeter and Griner dominating inside, the Lady Bears separated themselves from the rest of women’s –and men’s– college basketball teams this season.
Men lie, women lie, but numbers don’t. In the case of the Baylor’s unprecedented 40-0 season, that couldn’t ring more true. With 2012 being the 40th anniversary of Title IX, the Lady Bears are the best college basketball team in the land. And with their entire starting five set to return next season –Kentucky has four players projected as lottery picks in the this year’s NBA draft– it seems Baylor will remain at the summit for a chance to become the first team since ’10 UConn Huskies to repeat back-to-back perfect seasons.