The little Louisiana Tech spitfire point guard who was on the first NCAA women's basketball tournament championship team in 1982 was back in the winner's circle Tuesday night.
This time she was there as Baylor's coach. Kim Mulkey-Robertson guided the Bears to their first NCAA title with an 84-62 win over Michigan State (33-4) in front of a sellout crowd of 28,937 at the RCA Dome.
That made Mulkey-Robertson the first woman to win the NCAA basketball title as a player and a coach. Bob Knight and Dean Smith are the only men to have accomplished that feat.
"Wow, we're national champions. And what a performance it was," Mulkey-Robertson said after the victory. "I thought rebounding was outstanding for us."
The Bears (33-3), who had a decisive 45-22 advantage on the boards, did not need a rally Tuesday night -- as they had Sunday night when they came back from a 15-point deficit to beat Louisiana State.
Baylor pulled away midway through the first half and never let up.
Sophia Young, a West Indies native who had not played basketball before coming to the United States six years ago, led the Bears with 26 points.
"Yeah, this actually makes everything worthwhile," the junior forward said of her move to the United States. "I feel like I'm living my dream."
Steffanie Blackmon added 22 points for the Bears, and Emily Niemann used three-point shooting to score 19. She hit all five of her treys in the first half.
"I really think the outside shooting of Niemann in the first half was really critical to just the overall confidence and opening up the inside, and then I thought their post players did just a great job," Michigan State Joanne P. McCallie said.
Young was named the outstanding player of the Women's Final Four and was joined by Blackmon and Niemann on the all-tournament team.
It was the 20th victory in a row for Baylor, which also won its first Big Twelve Conference title last month.
"When you're building a program, you've got to take the little things and make them monumental, and that's what we've been able to do," Mulkey-Robertson said. "You can't go out after the McDonald's All-Americans, you got to go after sleepers and beat the bushes and find those players. We just won a national championship with not one kid on the roster that was recruited by the powers that be. And that gives hope to all of us trying to build a program."
She did more than build a program. She propped up a school and a community. Baylor, a school seen as a cesspool after the murder of Patrick Dennehy and subsequent cover-up by then coach Dave Bliss, can smile again.
"Look up at these fans," Mulkey-Robertson said, pointing up at the cheering mass at the RCA Dome. "That's how we've changed the Waco community. We're a positive in Waco and at Baylor. There's a lot of good there. There are great programs and great coaches."
Mulkey-Robertson was an assistant coach at her alma mater in 1989, and McCallie was on the opposing side as an assistant at Auburn in the 1989 national semifinals when the coaches last met. Louisiana Tech earned the victory.
Mulkey-Robertson's move to Baylor involved Leon Barmore and Sonja Hogg, who had coached her at her alma mater.
Barmore retired in 2000 so that Mulkey-Robertson, then a 16-year Tech assistant coach, could take his job.
But she wanted a five-year deal. When the school refused, Hogg, who had gone to Baylor and had just retired as the coach there, helped recruit Mulkey-Robertson as her replacement.
First-half runs of 8-0 and 9-2 helped Baylor build a 29-12 lead before Michigan State showed its only spark of the night by cutting the margin to 12 at the end of the period.
But Baylor quickly took charge in the second half and stayed out of trouble the rest of the way.
"I reminded them (at halftime) that Tennessee had a 16-point lead with 14 minutes in the semifinal game and they beat them," Mulkey-Robertson said. "I reminded them again at the eight-minute mark, when we had a double-digit lead, that this game wasn't over. It's just the way I coach. I never let them get comfortable.
"I told the team before the game, during halftime, and throughout the course of the playoffs, your defense will win you a national championship. And it was pretty special tonight."