The perfect season ended with an imperfect moment.
Overcome with emotion after falling in Tuesday night’s championship game, Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said women’s tournament Most Outstanding Player Brittney Griner is “like a guy playing with women.”
Given the recent controversy surrounding Internet and social media postings questioning Griner’s gender, the comment turned some attention away from the NCAA’s first 40-0 season — by men or women.
But like every double- and triple-team during the tournament, the Baylor All-American brushed it off.
“I take it as a compliment,” she said.
McGraw released a statement soon after the comment. “I would hope that it was clear to those in attendance at Tuesday’s press conference that my comments were meant to be complimentary,” it said. “Any attempt by others to read anything more into that comment is wrong [and] malicious.”
With a 26-point, 13-rebound, five-block performance in an 80-61 victory over Notre Dame, there’s no doubt Griner, a junior, asserted herself as the most dominant player in women’s hoops.
But this year, she got help from Odyssey Sims, the 5-foot-9 guard, who despite being 11 inches shorter than her heralded teammate, didn’t stand in Griner’s very long shadow.
It was the sophomore sensation’s strong play that gave Griner and the Lady Bears the leadership and grit they needed.
“Especially being a point guard, [Coach Kim Mulkey] has been the hardest on [Sims]. It’s her position,” sophomore Makenzie Robertson said. “She’s taken it and run with it. She’s been in control all year.”
Baylor’s motto all season, printed on wristbands, yellow towels and other materials, was “Unfinished Business.” That’s where Sims came in to support Griner. As a freshman in 2010-11, Sims was 0 for 6 from the field with four assists in 40 minutes in last year’s Elite Eight loss to Texas A&M.
“Odyssey Sims didn’t play well at all,” Mulkey said, referring to that game. “She will be the first one to tell you. . . . The talent was there a year ago. But she’s more experienced. She has really grown.”
Teammates took notice too. “She took care of the ball more this year,” senior Terran Condrey said. “She had more control of the game and better leadership.”
On Tuesday, Sims was Baylor’s second leading scorer with 19 points. At times, it seemed like she spent much of the championship game on the floor of the Pepsi Center. After missing a jumper midway through the second half, she followed the shot off the rim and dove into a scrum for a jump ball. Knocked to the ground by a hard foul on a 3-point attempt with less than seven minutes to go, Sims got up immediately to shoot her free throws.
“I’ve been getting hit by trains all year. And when I get hit, I just pop back up. I didn’t know I was going to a hit a 3,” Sims said. “But I tried to get back into the play as quick as possible and not give up on my team.”
It’s the kind of toughness she learned when her mother, Pamela Thompson, placed her on a boys team in Irving, Texas. Years later, Sims forced opponents to divide some of the attention commanded by Griner, the 6-8 force of nature in the paint.
“We’ll throw different things at Brittney . . . but Odyssey is what makes them go,” Notre Dame point guard Skylar Diggins said before the championship game. “We definitely have to be up and try to pressure her, too.”
The strategy didn’t completely work. Despite missing all four of her 3s in the first half, Sims kept shooting, while her feisty defense produced two steals. She’s so competitive that when she arrived back at the Baylor locker room, she compared with teammates how many text messages she received.
“To come out here and win, and make history at that, is a great feeling,” Sims said.
Both the point guard and Griner will return next year, despite repeated questions asked about the center leaving. But they’re living in the moment.
“When the season comes next year, we’ll start thinking about that,” Griner said. “Right now, it’s just celebrating.”