Griner’s Big 12 career ends as expected

DALLAS — The final game for Britney Griner against a Big 12 Conference foe went as many had expected it would, with the 6-foot-8 Baylor senior going off against Iowa State in the 2013 Big 12 Women’s Tournament Final at American Airlines Center on Monday night.

Griner victimized the Cyclones all night, going for 23 points and seven rebounds in the first half to finish with 31, eight and five blocks before leaving the floor in the second half to a raucous ovation from a very pro-Lady Bear crowd as she was receiving a hug from BU head coach Kim Mulkey.

Much like they did in Saturday afternoon’s quarterfinal against Kansas State, a game Baylor won 80-47, the Lady Bears never really gave ISU much of a chance in the 75-47 win, a victory which gave BU three Big 12 regular season and tournament titles over the last four seasons.

Griner went for 30 in two of her three games in the tournament, including hitting 30 in a close win over Oklahoma State in a Sunday semifinal. But her most complete performance came against K-State, when she flirted with a triple-double for all of her 31 minutes on the floor. Besides the 19 points she scored, the Houston native also brought down 13 boards and was one assist away from the triple-double with nine dimes. Oh, and she also had three blocks.

So long before the final horn sounded in Baylor’s tournament-clinching win over Iowa State on Monday evening, everyone knew that Griner would be named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, one of three Lady Bears to earn such distinction.

And even though cutting down the nets as the Big 12 tourney champs is nothing new for her and her BU teammates, even she admitted in the postgame presser that winning is something that never gets old.

“Winning never gets old, especially this one,” Griner said. “I think I speak for the five seniors. We definitely wanted to get this win. We wanted to celebrate this, everybody did. This is our last go-around with the Big 12.”

Monday’s win was the 30th consecutive victory for Baylor after an early-season loss to Stanford, the lone blemish for the Lady Bears in what has been an otherwise perfect season for Mulkey’s squad. Of course, as the top-ranked team in all the land and the defending national champions who come off a perfect 40-0 season last year, the size of the target on BU is considerable but judging from their performance in the Big 12 Tournament, there isn’t a single reason to believe Baylor doesn’t repeat and Griner doesn’t end her impressive and incomparable collegiate career on a high note yet again.

“I think we’re where we need to be,” Griner said after Monday’s win. “If we can play like we played tonight anything’s possible. I think we’re on track, just like we were last year.”

That’s of course great news to those who back the Green-and-Gold and bad news to those teams who will draw Baylor in the upcoming NCAA Women’s Tournament. Speaking of the Big Dance, the Lady Bears won’t begin their quest for a repeat national title for several weeks but with six games being all that stands in the way of them cutting down the nets for a second straight season as the best team in the nation at New Orleans Arena in early April.

But as someone who hadn’t watched Griner play a ton during her career, having watched all three of her performances in the Big 12 Tournament gave this writer a strong sense of appreciation and respect for what a complete player she is. Sure, at 6-8, she is a definite force in the paint who can score almost at will around the basket, block shots, get rebounds and generally make life very tough for most opposing players.

However, the truly unsung part of her game might be her passing skills. Griner routinely faced double teams during the three games in the Big 12 Tournament and she excelled in making the timely pass to an open teammate or at times even taking it to the rack with favorable results despite the double team. She has definitely evolved since she arrived at Baylor some four years ago, which is not only a credit to her well-documented strong work ethic but also to receiving some great coaching from Mulkey along the way.

Britney Griner’s career at Baylor has already been the stuff legends are made of, including being part of the first team to win three straight Big 12 Tournament titles. Of course, the national title remains the ultimate prize and if indeed the Lady Bears emerge victorious in the Big Easy in less than a month as many predict they will do, it will mark a fitting end to an impressive and not easily duplicated career.