Baylor's supporting cast coming up big
Baylor star Brittney Griner casts such a giant shadow that it's easy to overlook her supporting cast.
No doubt, the Bears (39-0) are on the cusp of history in big part because of Griner, the 6-foot-8 center known for her dazzling dunks and intimidating presence. But Baylor wouldn't be in the title game Tuesday night against Notre Dame without the contribution of her co-workers.
The Bears players who aren't exactly household names provided a valuable boost in a 59-47 win over Stanford on Sunday night in the NCAA semifinals.
With the Cardinal concentrating on Griner and daring anyone other than her to beat them, Terran Condrey rose to the occasion. So did Odyssey Sims, Destiny Williams and Jordan Madden.
Now, Baylor is just a win away from the first 40-win season in NCAA history, not to mention cutting down the nets for the first time since 2005, with Griner leading the way.
''Brittney is the face of women's basketball. She deserves that and it's great recognition for Baylor,'' coach Kim Mulkey said. ''But our team is not just Brittney Griner.''
This is hardly the Brittney Griner show, a point she can't emphasize enough.
''My team will tell you, the first thing out of my mouth is team and my teammates,'' Griner said. ''I'm a team player.''
The moment Griner steps on the court, she instantly draws a crowd. That only makes life easier for her teammates as someone is bound to spring open.
On Sunday, it was Condrey, who stepped up when Griner was shut down. Condrey erupted for 10 of her 13 points in the second half, many of her looks arriving with no defender nearby.
''We know she's going to get double-teamed a lot,'' a soft-spoken Condrey said. ''And we know they are going to force us perimeter shooters to shoot. I had an opportunity to knock down open shots. Simple as that.''
Griner does make it as simple as that.
''That's something a lot of people don't know about her; she likes it when people double- and triple-team her, because it opens up opportunities for everyone else,'' Sims said. ''It makes her so happy when she can get the ball to us and we hit a shot.''
Rest assured, Sims & Co. should receive plenty of open looks in a rematch with Notre Dame. Back in November, Griner exploded for 32 points in a 94-81 win over the Irish.
Sims was just as effective, though, as she finished with 25 points.
''Baylor's gotten a lot better,'' Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. ''Other players have really improved. In the beginning of the season, Griner was having to get 35 or 40. Sims would chip in with 15 or so. Last night, Griner only had three field goals, Sims one field goal and they still won the game.''
That said, any defensive scheme starts with Griner.
''You can't let Griner just get 50,'' McGraw said. ''You have to do something. You have to hope they shoot poorly. That's what it comes down to.''
Containing Williams will be a priority, too. She's been a force recently, scoring just seven against Stanford but grabbing 10 boards.
''She really is the unsung hero of their team,'' McGraw said. ''She's played well all year - rebounded well, scores, can shoot the jumper, can score on the block, rebounds. That's what makes them dangerous.''
Well, excluding Griner, of course, who in the words of Notre Dame point guard Skylar Diggins, ''has a 7-foot-4 wingspan, and she likes to block shots. She enjoys blocking shots.''
Loves blocking shots, more like, even more than dunking.
''I'm keeping the other team from scoring. I'm stopping them from putting points on their board,'' Griner said. ''It gets me fired up. There's just something about blocking shots.
''It's a little bit of ownership. I feel like that's my lane and my paint. When they see me come over and they do a little U-turn, you might catch a grin on my face.''
To see an even bigger smile, just watch her after a teammate hits a shot off one of her passes. That really jazzes her up.
''Everybody on this team, they have their little knack,'' Griner said.
Griner couldn't resist adding a little scouting report on some of her teammates:
- Condrey is ''silent but deadly'' with her ability to knock down shots.
- Madden can lock down another team's best perimeter player.
- Brooklyn Pope is a force in the paint.
- Williams will grab any rebound that Griner can't track down.
- Kimetria ''Nae-Nae'' Hayden can drive to the hoop with the best of them.
- Sims will stick with anyone on the court, something she will be called upon to do against Diggins.
''I'm just glad they're all on my team,'' Griner said. ''I couldn't do what I'm doing right now without them.''
The feeling is definitely mutual.
''We try to relieve the pressure off her,'' Sims said. ''And she tries to relieve pressure off of us, too.''