Lady Tops draw 15-seed to play No. 2 Baylor in Waco in NCAA Tournament

The Lady Toppers celebrate after WKU’s 61-60 victory Arkansas State in the championship game of the Sun Belt Tournament Saturday, March 15, 2014, at Lakefront Arena in New Orleans, La. The Lady Toppers secured a place in the NCAA tournament with their win. (Mike Clark/HERALD)

Kyle Williams

The Lady Toppers’ road to the NCAA Tournament hasn’t been easy, and it’s not slated to get any easier.

No. 15 seed WKU (24-8) will travel to Waco, Texas, and face No. 2 Baylor Saturday at 5:30 p.m. in the first round of the Women’s NCAA Tournament.

Saturday’s tournament meeting will be the first time WKU and Baylor have faced each other on the hardwood.

“We’re really excited,” redshirt freshman guard Kendall Noble said at the team’s selection show party Monday night. “Baylor is a great team. They’re tough competition. We’re probably going to learn a lot from them. If we can win, that will be even better.”

No. 5 Baylor (29-4, 16-2 Big 12 Conference) defeated No. 5 West Virginia 74-71 to claim the Women’s Big 12 championship. The Lady Bears defeated Notre Dame in 2012 to claim its second national championship in school history, capping a perfect season with a 40-0 record.

The Lady Topper defense will have their hands full with an offense that averages 84 points per game, which ties for fourth in the nation with Wright State. Senior guard Odyssey Sims leads the Lady Bears offense as the nation’s second best scorer, averaging 28.4 points per game.

Baylor will be without its leader on the bench, Coach Kim Mulkey. The coach, who has spent 13 seasons at Baylor, will not be allowed to lead the team in the first-round game because of comments against Louisville she made in last year’s NCAA competition .

“I’m going to watch on TV,” Mulkey told ESPN’s Kevin Negandhi during the selection show. “We’re going to prepare them. I have a tremendous coaching staff. As I tell the players all the time, something could happen to me on that sideline and you should be able to coach yourself and I have no doubt they’ll do a great job.”

No matter who is coaching Baylor, Coach Michelle Clark-Heard will take the same approach in preparing her team.

“I’m excited for the girls to have a chance to see our name pop up,” Clark-Heard said at the team’s selection show party Monday night. “At the end of the day, it’s what it’s all about. You never know where you’re going to end up and who you’re going to play, so I’m just excited we got the opportunity.”

WKU will play in the South Bend region. The winner of WKU-Baylor will get the winner of seventh-seed California and 10th-seed Fordham.

The Lady Toppers’ opponent wasn’t announced until 30 minutes into the selection show, only building more suspense.

“I was nervous the whole time holding Kendall’s hand,” sophomore guard Micah Jones said. “It was hard waiting the whole time.”

The Lady Topper defense held opponents this season to an average of 63.6 points per game.

WKU’s last appearance in the NCAA came in 2008 and ended in the first round loss to Texas – El Paso, 92-60.

The Lady Toppers are 17-16 all-time in the tournament and 4-5 all-time in the first round.

“We’ll have a game plan, and we’ll be ready to compete,” Clark-Heard said Sunday when the team arrived from the Sun Belt Conference tournament. “We’re going to compete and play hard. We’re not here just to be happy we’re in the NCAA.”

Senior Chaney Means said when the team arrived back in Bowling Green on Sunday that it didn’t matter who WKU would play, they have to make the most of getting a chance to play in the NCAA tournament.

“We get here. Now what are we going to do about it?,” Means said. “We’re just really excited, and we’re going to give our best effort. No matter who we play, no matter what seed we have, it’s just going to be a fun time.”