Bears (33-4), who haven’t been back to the Final Four since their 40-0 national championship in 2012.
And now they won’t even be part of this week’s Final Four in Dallas, only about 100 miles from their campus in Waco and the one that Mulkey had been talking about for more than two years.
“It doesn’t feel real right now,” said Alexis Prince, one of the seniors.
“It’s a disappointment. Just sorry I couldn’t get (the seniors) there,” said 6-foot-7 sophomore forward Kalani Brown, who finished with 27 points on 11-of-13 shooting and had nine rebounds Sunday night.
Nina Davis was an AP All-American last season and a three-time All-Big 12 pick, but she will leave Baylor without a Final Four trip and national championship chance she really wanted.
The four losses in the Elite Eight spanned Davis’ entire career. Same for Prince and Khadijiah Cave. Alexis Jones played in the last two, and was a redshirt for a third, after transferring from Duke.
“I just hate it for them, because they really are Final Four-type kids,” said Mulkey, who has two national titles and three Final Fours in her 17 seasons at Baylor. “This was a Final Four-type team.”
When Mulkey mentioned the 2017 Final Four during the early rounds of the 2015 NCAA Tournament, she knew who would be seniors this season — a class that became the first in school history with all of them scoring at least 1,000 career points. Plus, Australian guard Kristy Wallace was finishing her freshman season.
The Lady Bears then also were awaiting the arrival of McDonald’s All-America posts Brown and Beatrice Mompremier, both now coming off steady sophomore seasons.
“I think Kalani, from her freshman year to a sophomore year, is a completely different presence in the paint for us both offensively and defensively,” Mulkey said.
Another pair of McDonald’s All-Americans, post Lauren Cox and guard Natalie Chou, were freshmen this season.
Baylor has already signed four standout guards for next season. They include the Gatorade players of the year from Texas (Alexis Morris) and Louisiana (Cara Ursin).
After the Lady Bears won their first three NCAA Tournament games by margins of 89, 40 and 34 points, Mississippi State forced them into 17 turnovers that led to 20 points.
“We have all those bigs back. We have Cox and Beatrice and Kalani. They’re as good as any bigs in the country,” Mulkey said. “But we have to fix this turnover problem. We’ve got to fix, I guess you’d say, point guard play.”
Forward Kalani Brown (right) gives Baylor optimism for next year after a steady sophomore season. Brown was a bright spot in the Elite Eight loss to Mississippi State with 27 points on 11-of-13 shooting, plus nine rebounds.