At a distance, the look of the 2015 Preseason WNIT bracket has clarity, with the highest ranked teams on either side of the draw — No. 4 Baylor and No. 19 DePaul — emerging to face each other in Sunday’s championship game (3 p.m. ET at Baylor, televised by CBS Sports Network).
But there’s nothing automatic in the heat of competition, and both teams had to scale a hurdle or two to get through Thursday’s semifinals. The reward for managing the adversity is a chance to play another tough early-season game and learn more about their own internal makeup.
For the Lady Bears (3-0), it’s all about shifting roles and responsibilities around after the loss of guard Alexis Prince to a knee injury suffered Wednesday in practice. Prince scored 16 points in the team’s victory versus Southern Miss, indicating her ability to take some scoring pressure off Nina Davis, who leads the team in scoring.
Baylor definitely got tested Thursday in a 66-63 win against No. 17 South Florida, who trailed by just a point in a couple spots in the fourth quarter and showed a lot of tenacity despite shooting poorly.
“I thought we were tremendous on the defensive end, not just the first half. I thought we did okay the whole game,” said Baylor coach Kim Mulkey after the contest. “You just beat a team that has five returning starters and nine returning players. That was a very, very hard-fought win for us. I knew it was going to be. When (Alexis) Prince went out this week and had to have surgery, you have to adjust on the fly. We’re very talented, but we’re not anywhere near where we’re going to be. I have to figure out who to play and help on the perimeter.”
Baylor won the 2011 Preseason WNIT and is in the title game for the third time in four chances. The Lady Bears have now won 155 consecutive home games against non-conference foes, dating back to a loss to Auburn in the 2003 Postseason WNIT title game.
For the Blue Demons, their challenge Thursday was withstanding the scorching offense of visiting Indiana. The Hoosiers were at better than 65 percent from the field in the first half, but it was not a good sign to be actually trailing on the scoreboard (42-39).
The numbers began to balance in the second half, and DePaul’s seasoned lineup got its own rhythm solved on the way to a drama-free 84-69 victory.
"Indiana does a great job of not letting you get to the paint," said DePaul coach Doug Bruno. "We ended up taking 34 three-pointers (making 11), because that's what Indiana was giving us.
"Indiana forced us to take more time on offense. Brooke (Schulte) was good at picking her spots and patiently taking shots where there were openings. Eventually, our ball reversal and patience got us good looks at the rim.”
DePaul’s ability to cope with Baylor’s defense will be a key, as the Lady Bears force turnovers by the bunches. The Blue Demons should have confidence when they run their offense, with six players averaging in double figures in scoring.
Fans can watch the WNIT championship game live on CBS Sports Network. Thad Anderson (play-by-play) and Curt Miller will be calling the action from Waco, TX. CLICK HERE to find the channel in your area.