Friday, Sep 30, 2016
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Dave Hackenberg

Run-in with Bears painful for Gauchos

BOWLING GREEN — The score was 52-20 and less than four minutes of the second half had expired Sunday when UC Santa Barbara coach Carlene Mitchell sent five subs to the scorer’s table.

Her team had the 20. Baylor had the 52.

We mean no disrespect to her Gauchos, and neither did she, certainly, but it would not be unfair to suggest Mitchell was waving a white flag.

Baylor coach Kim Mulkey recognized the color and immediately sent five subs of her own into the game.

RELATED: GRINER, NO. 1 BEARS ROLL OVER GAUCHOS

That was the last anyone saw of Brittney Griner, Destiny Williams, Odyssey Sims, or any of the top-ranked, top-seeded Bears’ six-player rotation in the opening round of the NCAA women’s tournament at the Stroh Center.

The final score was 81-40 as Baylor advanced to Tuesday night’s second-round game against Florida.

“The surprise, maybe, was how early she substituted, but I felt like she was sending a message to me,” Mulkey said. “What goes around in this business comes around, and I just felt like she subbed all five, [so] I’m going to sub all five.”

Mitchell’s motive may not have been purely to get Mulkey to call off the dogs, “but Kim was just being nice and decided to sub with me.”

We’ve all seen the sports bar commercial where the bartender pushes a button and patrons get their wish for a game to go into overtime. Mitchell may have been looking for the fast-forward button.

UCSB was the lamb sent to slaughter. If Baylor is the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament, the Gauchos were No. 64. There is no 65. If these teams played a dozen times, Baylor would win 15 of them.

That’s OK. As Mitchell pointed out, “we played against maybe the eventual national champion, you know, and our kids gave the effort. I mean, we were outmanned [at] every position. It’s pretty obvious.”

Heck, it was obvious during warmups. But the UCSB cheerleaders did their thing and the pep band hammed it up in their serapes and gaucho cowboy hats, and nobody in the ocean-blue uniforms gave anything less than a valiant effort.

As March dawned, well before the Madness, Santa Barbara was 13-15 and in sixth place in the nine-team Big West Conference under a first-year head coach. Then the Gauchos won four straight, the last three to stun the Big West tournament field.

The NCAA selection committee, perhaps wondering at that point who would be No. 64, was provided an easy answer.

So, going against Baylor, the Gauchos might not have had a long NCAA future. In fact, it lasted about five minutes, at which point the Bears led 12-0. But Mitchell hopes they have a future. Thus, with 16:12 yet to play, she subbed.

“I started thinking of the future, and I told our kids in the huddle that everyone deserves a chance … we’ve ridden all 11 players to get here,” Mitchell said. “I wanted the seniors, you know, to remember it and have a good experience and go out on a great note, but I also wanted our underclassmen to understand what it’s like to play here and where the bar will be set for this program.”

The UCSB coach occasionally sprinkled a starter or two back into the game down the stretch. Mulkey, to her credit, did not.

The bar is already set for the Bears. They are 35-0 now and will be favored to win everything from here to the Final Four in Denver.

“It’s a big stage,” UCSB center Kirsten Tilleman said of the NCAA tournament. “Next time we’re back on this stage, we’ll get it right.”

And maybe somebody else will be waving the white flag.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.

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