SEATTLE – As if the prospect of advancing to a second consecutive Sweet 16 wasn’t enough to motivate Sophia Young recently, there was a little added incentive hanging over her head.
Call it a maternal pull.
Young hasn’t seen her mother, Annie Christopher, in two years. She has never played a basketball game with her mother in attendance.
Because of visa problems that kept Christopher from visiting the States, Young wasn’t sure when – or if – either would ever happen again.
“It’s been really difficult for me,” said Young, who came to the United States as a foreign exchange student from the West Indies six years ago. “I’ve always been very close to my mother.”
Thanks to a full-court press by the family and school, Christopher finally acquired a traveling visa last Thursday. And thanks to Baylor’s 69-46 victory over Oregon in the second round of the NCAA tournament at Hec Edmundson Pavilion on Monday, Young will finally get to play in front of her mother. The second-seeded Bears (29-3) will face No. 3 Minnesota in a regional semifinal at Tempe, Ariz., on Saturday.
“I went out and did everything I had to do to win this game,” said Young, who scored a game-high 25 points in the win. “My teammates knew about it, so they were playing with a purpose, too.”
The Bears advanced to their second consecutive Sweet 16 in convincing fashion, having knocked off two opponents by a combined 44 points. Monday’s victory saw Baylor go on an 18-0 run midway through the first half to pull away.
Now the Bears have a a chance to advance to the Elite 8 for the first time in school history.
“Sure, we’re happy; we’re ecstatic. It’s great for Baylor University,” said Baylor coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson, whose team made it past the second round for the first time last year. “But we’ve been to the Sweet 16 before. We’d like to go a little bit further than we’ve ever gone before.”
Based on its first two games of the tournament, Baylor has everything working right now.
The Bears have essentially knocked their first two opponents out by halftime – Baylor led 34-18 after one half Monday – and are playing like a legitimate national title contender.
The only possible stumbling block could be injury, which happened in the second half Monday when senior point guard Chelsea Whitaker had to leave the game after hurting her neck.
With 6:24 remaining in the game, Whitaker stole a ball and started dribbling up court before getting tripped up from behind. She went down face-first and stayed that way for a few seconds. A trainer eventually helped Whitaker walk off the floor and into the locker room.
Whitaker did not return to the game, but she momentarily returned to the bench with an ice pack on her neck. After a few minutes, she was led back into the locker room by a team trainer. She was taken to a local hospital for observation after the game.
“It was just a little whiplash,” Mulkey-Robertson said. “Chelsea’s a warrior. She’s been through three knee surgeries, so I don’t think a little whiplash is going to keep her out.”
In the evening game Vanderbilt beat Kansas State 63-60. The Commodores (24-7) will face top seed Michigan State in the semifinals of the Kansas City Regional on Saturday.
The highlight of Monday’s evening contest came with 1:22 remaining in the game, when Kansas State senior Laurie Koehn broke the NCAA record for 3-pointers. Koehn’s 22-foot shot was her third of the game and 392nd of her career.
Koehn broke the record previously held by Erin Thorn of BYU, who had 391 between 1999 and 2003.
While the record was nice, Baylor’s Young had the biggest smile. While her father lives in New York and has seen plenty of his daughter’s games, Young has waited far too long to play in front of her mother.
“I can’t even believe it,” Young said. “I don’t even know what to say right now. I’m just so overwhelmed and excited. I can’t wait.”