Odyssey Sims' return ignites Baylor

NOTRE DAME, Ind. -- Odyssey Sims had a little bit of rust to shake off. But that didn't take long. After missing the equivalent of five games -- she suffered an injured hamstring early in Baylor's loss to Stanford on Nov. 16 in Hawaii -- the Lady Bears' point guard was back on the floor.

And everything just seemed "right" with Baylor again.

In a 73-61 victory over Notre Dame on Wednesday, Sims missed her first five shots, and her passes weren't as crisp as we're used to. At one point, she airmailed a ball in the general direction of center Brittney Griner, a target whom Sims rarely misses. Especially not by a mile.

But, hey, even outstanding players need a little time to get their mojo back when they've been sidelined. By the time the game was over, Sims had 16 points and six assists (with, admittedly, seven turnovers). And defensively, she had helped thoroughly frustrate her Irish counterpart, Skylar Diggins.

"This is the best point guard in the country," Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said, motioning toward the junior Sims in the postgame news conference. "You can put that in your notes."

Mulkey is never shy about going to bat for her players, and she wanted to get a message across about Sims. Not really to take a dig at Diggins, who was red-eyed and disappointed after a 4-of-19 night from the field when she finished with eight points in the Irish's first loss this season.

Rather, Mulkey's barb was more toward the hype about Diggins that she doesn't think Sims gets, but deserves.

"What else does she have to do to get that recognition?" Mulkey said. "She's played Skylar four times now and won every ballgame. She's won a national championship."

It can't surprise you, of course, that Mulkey knew exactly how many times Notre Dame and Baylor have met, all with Diggins and Sims on the court. Not a lot of details escape Mulkey's mind, and certainly not when they can be effectively used to illustrate a point she wants to make.

The first Baylor-Notre Dame meeting was in December 2010, when Sims was a freshman and Diggins a sophomore. Then they faced off twice last season: in the Preseason WNIT final in November, and the NCAA final in April.

Wednesday in front of a sold-out crowd at Purcell Pavilion, in her hometown and on national television, the senior Diggins surely would have liked it to be her night. But it wasn't, and Sims had a lot to do with that.

Mulkey always says she's the harshest judge of point guards, having been one herself. But for the most part, she finds Sims typically meeting or exceeding expectations.

"Odyssey didn't have one of her best games, either," Mulkey said. "But she never stopped being tough on that floor, and she never stopped guarding people. And that's a kid who hasn't played in 2½ weeks."

Sims had no interest in fanning any flame about her game versus Diggins -- "It's always fun going against great players … but we don't have a rivalry" -- but Sims didn't need to, either. As Mulkey said, Sims has the results that speak volumes.

Meanwhile, Griner had one of those "quiet" double-doubles: 24 points and 14 rebounds. She didn't force the action, but the numbers still piled up for her. And when asked the standard question about how she has learned the lesson of "letting the game come to her," Griner made one of her classic dry witticisms.

"I just let that come to me as well," Griner said with a little grin, then added, "about last year, I guess. I just was being more patient. I keep moving; I'm drawing some people to me, so somebody's open on my team."

One of the players Wednesday who benefited from the attention Griner always gets was fellow senior Jordan Madden, who finished with 12 points and eight assists. Madden has the well-earned "defensive stopper" reputation, but this game was an example of how she can damage opponents with her offense, too.

And another Baylor senior, Brooklyn Pope, was terrific off the bench, scoring 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting. Starter Kimetria "Nae-Nae" Hayden was apparently in hot water with Mulkey for an unexplained reason, and played just eight minutes. But the Lady Bears still had enough options without her.

"It's a comfort zone when you have that many returning players," Mulkey said of the fact that Baylor has back all its starters from the 40-0 championship team. "But as I told them in the locker room after the game, my comfort zone has extended now to more players."

Speaking of comfort zones, Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw actually is in one even though she lost three starters off last season's NCAA runner-up team. McGraw is developing a lot of youngsters, led by freshman sensation-in-the-making Jewell Loyd.

Yes, she has two "L's" in Jewell and only one in Loyd -- which is kind of the opposite of what you might expect -- but you probably won't see very many L's, as in losses, associated with this kid. She's going to help Notre Dame add quite a few W's to its record.

The freshman guard out of suburban Chicago led the Irish with 24 points, while Kayla McBride scored 18 and Natalie Achonwa had 11. Those three and Diggins accounted for all of Notre Dame's points. But McGraw was in an upbeat mood afterward, and she should be. The growth potential for the Irish seems tremendous.

"It's fun. It's like a puzzle, trying to put the pieces together," McGraw said. "Some days, the pieces fit really well together, and some days I'm still tinkering. I'm enjoying it."

Meanwhile, the right pieces are all there for Baylor, especially now with Sims having returned.

"I was excited to be back out there with my team," Sims said. "And be able to lead them."

As Griner put it: "It's nice to see Odyssey out there giving the [other] point guard heck. That trickles down to the wing players and post players. She gets us going."