Brittney Griner and Baylor still find ways to entertain the home folks, even in blowouts.
Griner’s record 15th career dunk was the first of several crowd-rousing plays with the game well in hand in the second half, and the defending champion Lady Bears opened the NCAA tournament with an 82-40 win over Prairie View A&M on Sunday night.
Griner finished with 33 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks, but the Lady Panthers will remember the time they were on the court when the 6-foot-8 star threw in a one-handed reverse to send the fans into a frenzy.
”It was amazing. It was amazing,” said Prairie View guard Jeanette Jackson. ”We got star struck.”
The Lady Bears (33-1), the overall No. 1 seed, won their 31st straight game since an early season loss to Stanford, another top seed.
Baylor plays eighth-seeded Florida State in the second round on Tuesday night.
Odyssey Sims had 12 points and 10 assists, and Destiny Williams had nine points and 10 rebounds.
Gabrielle Scott led Prairie View with 14 points. The Lady Panthers (17-15) lost as a No. 16 seed for the third year in a row. Two of them were against Baylor in Waco, and the other was to Connecticut.
”This one game doesn’t justify our season,” Prairie View coach Toyelle Wilson said. ”Baylor was a lot bigger than us. They had a lot more ammo. They played like the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament.”
Griner’s latest dunk – she had two in the NCAA tournament last year – came right after Prairie View had scored to make it 49-26. Sims found Griner alone under the basket and threw a pass three-quarters of the length of the floor. Griner caught it, turned under the basket and dunked with one hand on the other side of the rim.
”It was a little energizer,” Griner said. ”We definitely started playing with more energy after that.”
A few minutes after Griner’s dunk, Prairie View’s Tanisha Lacey took the ball away from Griner and tried to shoot over her. Griner didn’t even let the shot get out of Lacey’s hand, stuffing it out of bounds.
With the crowd still wildly cheering the block, Sims got a steal and threw the ball ahead to Kimetria Hayden, who converted a three-point play for Baylor’s first 30-point lead.
Sims pleased the crowd again a few minutes later when she almost kicked the ball out of bounds on a fast break, but saved it to Brooklyn Pope. Sims was waiting for a return pass under the basket, and the layup put Baylor ahead 62-28.
A 3-pointer from Sims made it 70-30 with 9:07 remaining, and when Sims and Griner left the game less than 3 minutes later, Griner had as many points as the Lady Panthers.
”This crowd was pretty electric tonight,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. ”They didn’t wait until the dunk to get excited. I just think it was like a snowball effect. We did one thing. We started doing another thing. That’s just kids playing hard. That’s kids understanding this is tournament time.”
Baylor’s lead was just 22-15 midway through the first half when Mulkey called timeout and stared down Hayden for leaving Gabrielle Scott open for a 3-pointer that gave Prairie View five points in just 35 seconds.
The Lady Bears scored the next five points coming out of the timeout to start a 17-4 run that put them ahead 39-19 late in the first half. Griner, who had her 61st career double-double, scored 10 in the spurt and had 20 in the first half.
Playing for the first time in nearly two weeks, Baylor let the Lady Panthers stay close in the first few minutes, thanks in part to a stretch of a minute and a half when the Lady Bears didn’t even get off a shot.
Prairie View got a steal and had three straight offensive rebounds before Kiara Etienne hit a 3-pointer to give the Lady Panthers their only lead at 6-5.
”I think we came out a little too excited,” Sims said. ”They forced us to shoot jumpers. We didn’t attack the goal from the jump. We knew what we had to do. We slowly picked it up and got back on track.”
Prairie View qualified for the tournament by beating Mississippi Valley State in four overtimes in the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship game.
Leading scorer Latia Williams started quickly for Prairie View, but was just 2 of 10 from the field in the second half and finished with 10 points.
”It always starts for me on the defensive end, but I didn’t recognize me picking it up,” Sims said of her second-half defense. ”I guess I was just a little more anxious, trying to concentrate on getting a little more steals and just defending.”