When last we saw Kim Mulkey in Oklahoma City, she was going nuts. And talking nuts.
Wrestling off her jacket like it was a thousand creepy crawlers, incensed over a late foul in what became an upset loss to Louisville in the 2013 NCAA regional semifinals. Then in the postgame, begging to be asked about the whistles so she could rip the officiating. She was and she did.
No such intensity was necessary Saturday, in the Big 12 Tournament quarterfinals. Mulkey’s Baylor Bears routed Kansas 81-47. Cruella de Vil was mostly calm.
But the fire that makes Mulkey one of the great villains in collegiate athletics, at least in this part of the country, never strays far.
“I will never change my passion,” Mulkey said in a Chesapeake Arena hallway Saturday. “I will never change my intensity.”
Drats. That means the Big 12 pecking order isn’t likely to change anytime soon. Gone is Brittney Griner, the transcendent Baylor center, but the Bears are as potent as ever. They are 27-4, ranked ninth in America and seeded first in this tournament. Baylor has won four straight Big 12 titles, and with freshmen like Nina Davis and Imani Wright, that streak seems likely to extend.
Mulkey recruits hard, coaches hard, talks hard. She’s from Louisiana, but she’s no steel magnolia. A steel cactus is more like it.
“She’s intense,” said OSU coach Jim Littell said. “She’s highly focused. She’s got a lot of old school in her, where you gotta grind it out, where you have to hit tough shots to win the game. She’s demanding and holds her kids accountable. Always has them playing hard.”
Mulkey’s demeanor comes at a price. She’s not always popular with her peers. Women’s basketball is a tight sorority, but some coaches are hard-pressed to contain their contempt for Mulkey. They don’t like to talk about it, but some in the Big 12 have shown glee over Baylor’s infrequent defeats. I’ve seen it.
Mulkey is not polarizing. She alienates most everyone not wearing Baylor green. But give Mulkey this. She’s been great for Baylor. And she’s been great for the Big 12.
A school that had little athletic success and had the stigma of the Dave Bliss men’s basketball scandal, found an oasis in women’s hoops 10 years ago. Now Baylor is solid in men’s basketball and the reigning Big 12 champ in football. Cruella has made the conference better in more ways than just women’s hoops.
“Baylor’s brand nationally is stronger than it’s ever been,” said athletic director Ian McCaw. “She’s brought us great distinction winning national championships. She’s a favorite of Baylor Nation and we’re thankful she’s our coach.”
And Mulkey says she’s trying to mellow. Not on the court. No chance of that. But off the court.
“You don’t take it personal,” Mulkey said. “You don’t beat yourself up as bad when you go home after a loss. You realize if you keep doing that, you’re not going to be in the business long.
“I’ve certainly, through my health issues (Bell’s palsy), realized this is a great profession, but it’s a profession that will kill you if you allow it. And I’m not willing to do that. I take more time for me. I take more time when the season is over, to get away from the office.”
Mulkey still can go nuts. Oklahoma City is a primary source for that. Still can growl and groan and make opponents, in the stands or on the other bench, grit their teeth. But Cruella is good for Baylor, which makes her good for the Big 12.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at . He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.