Baylor states its case: Greatest women's team ever?

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Baylor states its case: Greatest women's team ever?

From Comcast SportsNet
DENVER (AP) -- Brittney Griner took the Baylor Lady Bears to new heights. Blocking layups, snagging rebounds, hitting shots over two and three helpless defenders, all season long she towered over the competition. That left Griner with just one more task Tuesday night -- cutting down the nets. Griner had 26 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks to lead Baylor to a dominating 80-61 victory over Notre Dame in the NCAA women's basketball championship, capping an unparalleled 40-0 season for the Lady Bears. "She'll go down as one of the greatest post players in the history of the game," Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. "I'm so glad she got that ring." When the buzzer sounded, Griner finally celebrated, hamming it up as she helped take down the nets and dancing with Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III. Then she lifted coach Mulkey up on her shoulders briefly, just the way she has done for the Lady Bears during this long season. "It meant everything for us to get it for coach," said Griner, referring to Mulkey's struggle with Bell's palsy during the tournament. "She felt like she wasn't there for us, but we told her every second that we could hear here loud and clear, everything she was saying." Baylor became the seventh women's team to run through a season unbeaten and the first in NCAA history to win 40 games. It was the second national championship for Baylor, which also won a title in 2005. "Looking back when we get older, I'm always going to remember this moment, always going to remember confetti falling and being here with my team," Griner said. Baylor did it in a nearly wire-to-wire victory, finishing with a flourish when anything less than bringing a title back to Waco would have been a huge disappointment. The 6-foot-8 Griner was right at the center of the action as the Lady Bears took control. Every time Notre Dame made a run in the second half to cut into the deficit, Griner had an answer. She showed a wide array of post moves, hitting turnaround jumpers and hooks that the Irish had no way to stop -- even when they collapsed around her. "Brittney Griner comes to work every day," Mulkey said. "A lot of great players think they're all that and they half go through drills and they come to practice and they dog it. That child comes to work and brings her work pail every day." Notre Dame fell short in the title game for the second straight season. The Irish lost to Texas A&M by six points last year. Coach Muffet McGraw's senior-heavy crew did finish the season with a decided edge over rival Connecticut -- the Irish won the Big East regular season title and defeated the Huskies in three of four meetings, including the national semifinal. But like every other team this year, Notre Dame couldn't solve Baylor and its superstar. "I think she's one of a kind," McGraw said. "There's so many things she can do. There have been some guards that have had some skill like that. But as a post player, she's the best I've seen." Griner, selected The Associated Press player of the year, also was named most outstanding player of the tournament. "We wouldn't be here without my team," the junior said. "All the awards -- none of that means anything. If I don't have my team here, we can't get this." All-American point guard Skylar Diggins did all she could to keep the Irish (36-4) in the game, scoring 20 points. But senior Natalie Novosel had just five points, going 0-for-11 from the field. Devereaux Peters, also playing in her final game, was saddled with foul trouble because of Griner. She scored seven points. Diggins "played a great game," McGraw said. "She's just a big-time player and she didn't get a lot of help today." Like Griner, Diggins has pledged to return for her senior year -- both could join the WNBA draft -- and will try to make a third run at the title. Notre Dame had an early 9-8 lead before Baylor took over with a 12-2 run. The Irish were down by 14 in the first half before cutting their deficit to 34-28 at the break. They got as close as 42-39 and had the ball, but Griner asserted herself, scoring nine of the next 19 points for Baylor to seal the victory. "They went on a run there," Diggins said. "I just remember we cut it down to three and they went on a run. I saw 10, 12, 14, 16, 19. We couldn't get rebounds when they missed shots." Odyssey Sims added 19 points and Destiny Williams had 12 for the Lady Bears, who outrebounded Notre Dame 46-27 and now have the third unbeaten season in women's basketball in the last four years. UConn, which has gone undefeated four times, did it in back-to-back years in 2009 and 2010. Texas and Tennessee also have unbeaten seasons. Baylor's victory also gave President Barack Obama some bragging rights. He correctly picked Baylor to beat Notre Dame in the title game. With 1:04 left and the game well in hand, Mulkey took out Griner and the two shared a long hug. The fiery coach then went down the bench and hugged each of her players while holding back tears. "I'm just so happy," Mulkey said. "That old saying, you're so happy you cry.' I can't quit crying.'" Mulkey, who did her net cutting with daughter Mackenzie -- who is a freshman on the team -- and son Kramer, has now won a title as a player (at Louisiana Tech), an Olympic gold medal (in 1984) and two titles as a coach. Only five women's coaches have more than one championship at the top level of NCAA competition. Mulkey has downplayed the 40 wins, noting that her former coach and mentor at Louisiana Tech Leon Barmore won 40 games in 1980. That was before women's basketball was governed by the NCAA, which didn't begin keeping records until the 1982 season. It was the second meeting between the teams this season. Baylor also won the first one, by 13 in Waco on Nov. 17. That win gave the Lady Bears the preseason WNIT title. As usual, Griner put on a show in warmups, thrilling the crowd with a series of impressive dunks -- including a one-handed throw down, a double-pump slam and another in which she hung on rim. She dunked twice in the tournament, matching Candace Parker for most dunks by a woman in NCAA tournament play and during a college career (seven). She couldn't catch one against the Irish. The Lady Bears had a strong cheering section that included Griffin -- dancing in his seat at the end of the game -- and country music star Trace Adkins. He was a freshman walk-on football player at Louisiana Tech in the early 1980s when Mulkey was a senior there. Notre Dame had its own star fan in former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who earned a graduate degree at the school. The Irish were wearing their green uniforms for the first time since last season's title loss. It didn't help. But on this night, nothing else could stop Griner, either.

Why Cubs are excited for pitching prospect Dylan Cease: He's 'throwing lightning bolts'

Why Cubs are excited for pitching prospect Dylan Cease: He's 'throwing lightning bolts'

Theo Epstein's front office is heading into Year 6 with the Cubs and they're finally talking about a pitcher as one of the organization's most exciting prospects.

That's how senior vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod framed his Dylan Cease report to fans at the Cubs Convention at the Sheraton Grand Chicago last weekend.

It was a tongue-in-cheek summation from McLeod after he spent the previous few minutes fawning over Cease, the Cubs' sixth round pick in 2014.

Of course, McLeod and the Cubs can poke fun at the lack of impact pitching the farm system has developed when the homegrown position players like Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber just helped lead the franchise to its first World Series championship in over a century.

Cease, however, has been one of the more intriguing Cubs prospects for years — a right-handed pitcher capable of touching 101 mph on the radar gun.

"This guy is throwing lightning bolts out of his arm," McLeod said. "It's really exciting. But we also understaned he's only in Low-A this year, so he's far away."

The Cubs expect Cease to pitch for Class-A South Bend in 2017 after spending last season pitching for short-season Eugene and the 2015 campaign working in the rookie league in Arizona.

Cease — who just turned 21 in late December — put up some impressive numbers at both stops in the Cubs system, posting a 2.36 ERA and 1.165 WHIP to go along with a whopping 91 strikeouts in 68.2 innings. He also only surrendered one homer and walked more batters (41) than reached via a basehit (39).

Control is obviously an issue for Cease, but the upside is evident.

"He's so far away," McLeod said. "He's gonna go into 2017 as a starter. As with a lot of young guys, it's gonna come down to command and depend on that third pitch and the ability to land them for strikes.

"It's a special arm. He can pitch 95-100 mph with a big power curveball. He's unlike anyone else we have in our system since we've been here in terms of pure stuff."

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One fan compared Cease to Carl Edwards Jr. in terms of their lanky build and high velocity, setting McLeod up for a layup joke.

"Well, Dylan is much stronger physically than CJ is...as is everybody in this room," McLeod said as the ballroom filled with laugher. "Don't tell [CJ] I said that. 

"They have different body types, obviously. Carl is long and lanky and Dylan has probably put on 20 pounds since we drafted him, so he's more like 6-foot-2, 190."

By comparison, Edwards — who goes by "The String Bean Slinger" for his slight build — is listed at 6-foot-3, 170 pounds.

Edwards was drafted in the 48th round in 2011 and spent his whole minor-league career as a starting pitcher until the Cubs converted him to a reliever in 2015.

Cease may eventually go down the same path, but the Cubs are going to give him every opportunity to make it as a starter first.

Cease was one of the top pitchers available in the 2014 draft, but his stock took a hit when he was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow while at Milton High School in Georgia.

That scared off a lot of teams — as did the potential signability issues with college offers looming — but the Cubs took a chance and have now watched Cease soar to a top prospect in the system (No. 4 by Baseball America; No. 7 by FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus) despite the cautious approach and lack of innings in professional ball.

"We have to thank Kyle Schwarber, actually, as one of the main reasons we got to sign Dylan Cease," McLeod said. "Because we took Kyle fourth overall, we were able to save money on the selection with him, which gave us the resources to go get Dylan Cease.

"He was a Top 10 pick in the draft — a high school arm that got hurt, fell down to the fifth round and he had a commitment to Vanderbilt, I think it was, and we were able to use the money we saved from Kyle.

"Just another reason to love Kyle Schwarber."

Could the Bulls go after Chris Bosh for next season?

Could the Bulls go after Chris Bosh for next season?

The basketball world woke up Friday morning to a report from ESPN senior writer Marc Stein saying the Bulls may go after Chris Bosh for the 2017-18 NBA season.

It's surprising and intriguing for multiple reasons: 

1) Bosh was believed to have played his last days in the NBA due to blod clot issues.

2) The Bulls are at something of a franchise crossroads, sitting as the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference following Thursday's games and still determining what the right step is for the near future and the long term. 

3) Bosh will be 33 in March and hasn't played in an NBA game in nearly a year (last appeared with the Heat Feb. 9, 2016).

But Stein said the Heat are not planning on waiving Bosh before March 1, so he wouldn't be eligible to join the roster of a playoff contender.

Stein then says: If Bosh does return to the hardwood, "word is that the Chicago Bulls are already plotting a run and will be at the front of the line to try to sign him."

Bosh is an 11-time All-Star who has averaged 19.2 points and 8.5 rebounds per game throughout his career. He helped the Heat win several titles as part of the Big Three with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James.

Bosh was also just in Chicago visiting Wade earlier this month:

Could he form another Big Three with Wade and Jimmy Butler, this time in Chicago?

It's worth noting Wade just turned 35 earlier this week and will be in his 14th NBA season next year.