WACO, Texas -- Odyssey Sims and Baylor are having another sweet season.
The Lady Bears have made it to the third round of the NCAA women’s tournament for the sixth year in a row, and ninth time in an 11-season span that includes two national titles.
But there are still surely plenty of people surprised to see them back in the Sweet 16 this year -- something even their own coach alluded to after they advanced.
This is where Baylor’s season came to an unexpected end last March in a physical one-point loss to Louisville. And that was before the departures of Brittney Griner, the two-time AP Player of the Year, and four graduated seniors from a team that had been so heavily favored to win a second consecutive national championship.
Luckily for the Lady Bears, they still had Sims, who could still break Jackie Stiles’ NCAA single-season scoring record.
"I know that I’m extremely proud of the team I get to coach this year. We have gone now as far as the team did last year," coach Kim Mulkey said after their second-round victory over California. "As my mother would say from the country, ‘Who woulda thunk it?"’
Baylor (31-4), the No. 2 seed in the Notre Dame Regional, plays Saturday against No. 3 seed Kentucky (26-8). It is a rematch of a December game the Wildcats won 133-130 in four overtimes at the same NFL stadium where the men’s Final Four will be played.
"We’ll correct what we didn’t do right the first time in Arlington.
Sims, second nationally averaging 28.5 points per game, has already set a Big 12 single-season record with 996 total points. She scored 27 points against Cal to surpass FIU’s Jerica Coley for No. 2 on the NCAA list and to move within 66 of the 1,062 points Stiles scored as a senior at Missouri State in 2000-01.
Despite fouling out in the first overtime Dec. 6 against Kentucky, Sims scored 47 points, one of her four 40-point games this season. She combined for 58 points in two NCAA tourney games at the Ferrell Center, her last in the home arena where the Lady Bears were 77-2 during her four seasons.
When Sims came out of the Cal game Monday night, she stopped short of the bench and shared a long hug with Mulkey, herself a former championship point guard. As needed with all the inexperience and youth around her, Sims became quite a leader this season.
"She didn’t want that role before, she never embraced it," Mulkey said. "This year, she embraced it, she wanted to be a captain and she is just mature now. She’s much more mature today than she was when she was freshman, and I’m not talking about her skill level. She’s always been talented, but it’s just a level of maturity away from the floor, the level of maturity in how to handle herself and her teammates."
The Lady Bears went 40-0 and won a national title when Sims was a sophomore. Then came that crushing loss to Louisville last season, which ended with Sims sprawled on the court with her face buried in her hands.
Now they’re following Sims and trying to get farther than last season.
"I definitely think that’s one of the things I’ve noticed with her the most since I’ve known her ... she’s really just developed into a leader on and off the court," said senior guard Makenzie Robertson, a first-year starter but a teammate with Sims all four years. "She knows how to address different players, and she’s just this year, I notice her doing a great job of coming in, ready to work and doing what she needs and helping others get ready around her."