Headed into their regional final, UConn and Baylor had met eight times, and each had won four times.
“I wish it was for the national championship and not a chance to get to a Final Four because I think both programs are just elite and it’s a shame somebody has to lose,” Mulkey told reporters on Sunday.
Their matchup happening this early in the tournament was in part a credit to the depth at the top of the 64-team field, with Baylor as one of several formidable teams seeded second who could certainly be considered title contenders. Already in this tournament, some teams at the top have been tested, and one No. 1 seed, North Carolina State, was upset by Indiana in the round of 16.
“Explain to me how they are a No. 2 seed,” Auriemma said of Baylor on Sunday. “These things happen, I know, but I think they deserved to be an No. 1 seed, if you look around the rest of the tournament.”
To reach the round of 8, Baylor blew past its first- and second-round opponents but needed overtime to prevail against Michigan in the regional semifinal, 78-75.
Its best player this tournament has been NaLyssa Smith, a junior forward from Converse, Texas, who had made 26 of her 33 shots this tournament leading up to Monday’s game, including all 11 she took in Baylor’s round of 16 win. Against UConn, she had 14 points.
UConn has delivered three clear wins in this tournament, its first two without Auriemma present after he contracted the coronavirus. The Huskies won in the round of 16 by containing Caitlin Clark, the leading scorer in Division I, and Iowa in a 92-72 victory on Saturday. Bueckers has been the buzz for the Huskies — posting 62 points, 23 rebounds and 18 assists in their first three tournament games — but Saturday’s game reminded opponents that UConn’s depth is its true weapon.
Indiana gave Arizona a run for its money in a low-scoring game. After trailing throughout the third quarter, the Hoosiers tied the game going into the fourth thanks to a second-chance pull-up jumper by Aleksa Gulbe.