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Baylor makes history with trip to Sweet 16

3/23/2004

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- Baylor needed a moment like this in
what's been a very dark year for the Waco school.

The Baylor women beat Florida 91-76 Monday night in the second
round of the NCAA tournament to advance to the round of 16 for the
first time in school history.

"The university needed this more than the program needed
this," said Baylor coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson. "You all know
what's happened over the past year, I don't need to rehash it."

Baylor and its athletic department have been ravaged by tragedy
and scandal.

Last summer, Baylor men's basketball player Patrick Dennehy was
found shot to death. One of his teammates, Carlton Dotson, has been
charged with murder and is awaiting trial.

The disappearance of Dennehy, whose body was found on July 25
near a gravel pit southeast of Waco, prompted an internal inquiry
that revealed numerous serious NCAA violations. They included
revelations that failed drug tests were suppressed and coach Dave
Bliss had paid players' tuition.

Bliss resigned in August and the school is now on NCAA probation
and facing other sanctions because of the violations.

"I asked this team to be the shining light of our athletic
department this winter and they did that," Mulkey-Robertson said.

Baylor's two wins in the Midwest Regional here provided a
respite from the school's nine months of agony and not even the
fact the mighty Tennessee Lady Vols are their next opponent could
temper the Bears' tears of joy.

"I just stopped crying," said guard Jessika Stratton, who just
missed a double-double with 12 points and nine assists.

Stratton was among five Baylor players who scored in double
figures. They were led by sophomore Sophia Young, who scored 17 of
her 23 points in the first half.

Fourth-seeded Baylor (26-8) will meet top-seeded Tennessee in
the Midwest Regional in Norman, Okla., next week. The Lady Vols
beat DePaul 79-59 to advance to the round of 16 for the 23rd
consecutive year.

With Florida's leading scorer and rebounder, Vanessa Hayden, on
the bench for the last 14{ minutes of the first half with two
fouls, Baylor used a 16-2 run to take a 46-32 lead at halftime.

Hayden, the SEC's defensive player of the year, could only watch
as Young, who also had 11 rebounds, dominated inside. Several times
in the opening half Young hit layups against Hayden's replacement,
sophomore Dalila Eshe.

"Without that big force inside, defensively we suffered," said
Florida coach Carolyn Peck. "Young and (Dionne) Brown did a good
job of positioning themselves inside."

Young scored eight points in the 16-2 spurt. Florida's Tashia
Morehead ended the run with a 3-pointer with 5 seconds left in the
half, her first field goal against Baylor this season. She went
0-for-15 against the Bears in a 71-54 loss at Gainesville in
December and missed her first six shots Monday.

Fifth-seeded Florida (19-11) rallied once Hayden returned in the
second half. The Gators got within five points twice, the last at
67-62 with 10:46 left on two free throws by Hayden.

The 6-foot-4 Hayden scored 10 of her 15 points in the first nine
minutes of the second half and had four blocks. Bernice Mosby led
the Gators with 16 points, and Danielle Santos had 13.

But even with Hayden back, Baylor's offense produced points and
a fatigued Florida bunch ran out of time. With Hayden and Morehead
on the bench for a quick breather and Baylor up 69-62, freshman
Emily Niemann and Brown hit back-to-back layups.

"After expending so much energy to get back into it, fatigue
became a factor and they needed a blow," said Peck.

Another block by Hayden set up her layup at the other end to get
Florida to 73-65 with 6:53 left, but moments later Hayden fouled
out, picking up two fouls in a seven-second span.

Baylor got a huge game from freshmen reserves Monique Jones and
Niemann. Jones hit five of six shots for 13 points. Niemann scored
16, including four 3-pointers. Two of them came back-to-back after
Florida cut the Bears' lead to nine points early in the second
half.

Brown, playing in place of an injured Steffanie Blackmon, had 14
points and seven rebounds. Blackmon, the Bears' second-leading
scorer, injured her left knee in the Big 12 tournament.