Griner just 5 blocks shy of NCAA tournament record
Brittney Griner finally looks comfortable with herself once again.
Baylor's 6-foot-8 freshman phenom has blocked 14 and 10 shots in her past two games in helping the Lady Bears reach Monday night's Memphis regional final against No. 2 seed Duke. She's now just four swats away from tying the NCAA tournament record.
Alison Bales needed six games for 30 blocks in 2006 for Duke. Griner has 26 in half that time and credits watching tape of herself with helping her find her rhythm once again.
``I knew I had to come out and play my game and go back to the old Brittney. Watching film helped me a lot,'' Griner said.
It sure seems to have worked.
Griner put together one of her best games yet with 27 points and 10 blocks for her eighth double-double this season Saturday to knock off top-seeded Tennessee 77-62 on Saturday. Those numbers don't include how well she moved and shared the ball with teammates despite being smothered by defenders with even four collapsing around her at one point.
This was her second double-double since breaking Jordan Barncastle's nose March 3 with the punch that landed her a two-game suspension but easily her best game since then. Baylor coach Kim Mulkey had talked with Griner about getting back to being the old Brittney after what she refers to simply as ``the incident.''
``And it will always follow her. She can't help what you guys write about her, but what you guys write about is watching a phenom out here playing above the rim. That is what needs to be written about from this day forward because she is a sweet child as you see,'' Mulkey said.
``She is a once-in-a-lifetime player.''
Junior captain Melissa Jones said they like seeing the more aggressive Griner.
``Brittney's been getting back in her rhythm that she used to be in,'' Jones said.
So much has been made of Griner becoming just the seventh woman to dunk in a game and her shot-blocking skills. She already has 209 for the NCAA single-season record, well ahead of Louella Tomlinson's 195 for St. Mary's this season. That puts Allyssa DeHaan's Division I career record of 503 blocks for Michigan State well within Griner's reach.
``She's a great shot blocker,'' Duke senior Joy Cheek said.
Griner is doing so much more now.
Against Tennessee, she dished off to Jones for an easy layup when quadruple-teamed and also showed she doesn't just stand under the basket when she came out to contest a 3-point shot that missed.
``If it means me having to go out to contest a shot or alter it to help my team, I'll go all the way to half court to do it. I just tried to make her think, 'There's a 6-8 coming at me, I need to adjust my shot,' and it pretty much worked,'' Griner said.
She also went 11-of-13 at the free throw line and grabbed seven rebounds to go with two assists against only one turnover while playing all 40 minutes against Tennessee. Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt, who saw Griner up-close in the season opener, said the freshman has improved since then in using the glass offensively and hitting her free throws.
Her play is a big reason why the Lady Bears are back in a regional final for the first time since 2005 when Mulkey led Baylor to its lone national championship. She's the leading scorer, averaging 18.4 points per game, and a big anchor for a youthful team starting two freshmen with two more coming off the bench in key roles.
Not that Jones nor senior Morghan Medlock mind.
``It's my excuse when someone drives past me,'' Jones said. ``I wanted Brittney to get 14 blocks this game (against Georgetown). She's done so much for this team that's indescribable. To have her behind us brings us a ton of comfort.''
Medlock joked that she has slow feet down in the post herself.
``So when people drive past me, I'm the first one yelling, `BG, BG,' and she's always there and she always blocks it. She's kind of like my bodyguard,'' Medlock said. ``She always takes care of me.''
Griner also is showing she knows how to stay out of foul trouble. She didn't pick up her second personal against Tennessee until the second half and finished the game with only three.
``I can't help my team sitting on the bench, so I knew I had to be smart on my fouls. I had to play straight up and stay on the floor to help my team,'' she said.
That she's doing quite nicely indeed.