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Lady Bears let others debate 40-0's place in history

Graham Watson
Yahoo Sports

DENVER – In the Mile High City on Tuesday, Baylor achieved rarefied air.

With its 80-61 win against Notre Dame in the NCAA women's final, Baylor not only won a second national title to go with its 2005 crown but also finished the first 40-0 season in college basketball.

"You really sit back and think about how you've accomplished something that no other team, men or women, has ever gotten," Baylor forward Destiny Williams said. "It's awesome to be the first ones to do it, and that's something that people will always remember you by."

Sure, six other NCAA women's basketball teams and eight men's teams have gone undefeated, and the 2002, 2009 and 2010 Connecticut teams and the 1998 Tennessee Lady Vols went 39-0. However, that elusive 40th game never was on the table.

But it was for the Lady Bears, who set out this season to correct unfinished business after losing to eventual champion Texas A&M in the regional final a year ago. Since then, Baylor's whole motivation has been righting what it perceived to be a wrong.

"I was just hugging my teammates," star post player Brittney Griner said of her emotions after the game. "I had tears in my eyes. We finally did it. Unfinished business was over. And I was just ready to be with my team and hug them all."

[ Related: Check out the best images from Denver ]

As the final minutes in Tuesday's game ticked down, chants of "un-de-feat-ed" rained down on the Lady Bears from the swarm of Baylor fans in the Pepsi Center. They knew they were seeing history, the likes of which might never be replicated.

And no one can say the Lady Bears played an easy schedule to achieve it. They played Tennessee (twice), St. John's, Connecticut, Nebraska, Texas A&M (three times), Stanford and Notre Dame (twice). Each of those teams was ranked in the final Associated Press poll, and three of them made the Final Four as No. 1 seeds.

All season Baylor clearly was the nation's most dominant team. Just five of the Lady Bears' 40 games were decided by single digits, and none of those came in the NCAA tournament, when they beat opponents by an average of 20.8 points.

Baylor accomplished all this with the help of Griner, who had 26 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks Tuesday en route to being named the Final Four's most valuable player. Although coach Kim Mulkey said Monday that Griner didn't need a championship to validate her place as one of the best – if not the best – to play the women's game, it sure helped.

"It's sad in athletics when people feel you have to validate your talent by winning a championship," Mulkey said. "Brittney Griner, whether she won today or not, will go down in the history of the women's game if not the greatest post player, one of the greatest. I'm so glad she has that ring now."

[Related: Notre Dame coach says Brittney Griner is 'like a guy playing with women']

Even though Baylor's 40-0 run was historic, it's unclear where history will place the Lady Bears among the greatest women's teams. Many will point to the Connecticut teams that boasted multiple All-Americans as the best, but Baylor certainly has a claim, especially with its destruction of Notre Dame in the final. However, Baylor wanted no part in staking its claim in the historical lineage of women's college basketball greatness. In fact, the significance of the achievement was lost in the emotional wave of just winning a national championship.

"Forty and 0 will mean something to me and to all of them when they're through with their collegiate career, and we'll think back on what we accomplished, who we played to go 40-0," Mulkey said. "That may be the story, who you played to be 40-0. You didn't play a bunch of patsies. But [perfection] was never a goal of ours."

Regardless of history, the spoils of the victory did hit some of the players after a few minutes in the locker room. Those might have proved more exciting than any record.

Exclaimed guard Jordan Madden: "We get to meet [President] Obama!"

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