Griner, Bears save best for last
Brittney Griner can finally forget about those missed free throws in Baylor’s one-point loss at Connecticut in another 1-2 matchup.
This time, Griner was flawless from the line and scored 12 of her 25 points in the closing run that pushed the top-ranked Lady Bears past No. 2 UConn 66-61 on Sunday night.
”That’s the first thing I looked at,” Griner said, holding the stat sheet that showed she made all seven free throws – six in that game-ending 27-11 spurt. ”I just knew I had to knock them down, stayed calmed and did everything I needed to do.”
The Huskies may have a hard time getting over the thought of Griner, Baylor’s 6-foot-8 junior All-America pick, making shots and swatting others away.
Griner also had nine rebounds and nine blocked shots for the Lady Bears (11-0), who overcame an 11-point deficit in the second half and won their second No. 1 vs. No. 2 game this season.
Baylor also avenged that loss at Connecticut early last season when the rankings were reversed and Griner missed eight free throws.
”The obvious answer is she’s just a lot bigger than any kid that she’s going to be playing against,” said UConn’s Geno Auriemma, who coached Griner on the U.S. national women’s basketball team this past offseason.
”She’s developed a little bit of an aggressiveness and a few more ways to score than she’s had in the past and that’s made it really difficult to defend her.”
Odyssey Sims had 23 points for the Lady Bears, whose 29-game home winning streak includes a 94-81 win over then-No. 2 Notre Dame in November.
”We said going into the game, Odyssey Sims is going to decide this game,” Auriemma said. ”Brittney is going to get what Brittney gets every night. And that was a typical Brittney game.”
Bria Hartley led Connecticut (9-1) with 25 points, while Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis had 15 and Tiffany Hayes 10.
It was the most anticipated home game ever for the Lady Bears, the first time a men’s or women’s game sold out in advance at the Ferrell Center. The record crowd of 10,627 included Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III, who flashed the pose and got a huge ovation when he was shown on the screen.
They erupted into a frenzy when Sims threw the ball high in the air as time ran out.
Connecticut, whose average margin of victory this season was nearly 42 points, was 13-2 in previous games matching 1 vs. 2, including eight wins in a row. Their previous was the 65-64 victory over Baylor last season.
”I think (our players) were very mature in the locker room at halftime, very focused,” coach Kim Mulkey said. ”They understood, you’re not just playing the current UConn team, you’re playing a very proud tradition.”
The Huskies had a 50-39 lead with just over 15 minutes left after hitting three consecutive 3-pointers in a 2-minute stretch. Mosqueda-Lewis hit two of those, starting and ending a string that also included Hayes’ 3.
Right after that, Griner got her fifth block of the game to break the Big 12 career record, and made some key free throws as well. She broke Courtney Paris’ Big 12 career record of 446, and now has 451.
”Shot blocking is the one thing I love the most,” Griner said. ”To me that’s better than a dunk, or anything like that.”
Griner quickly added another block when she swatted away a shot by Hayes and followed with two free throws. Sims then had a steal and drove for a bank shot to wrap up 10 consecutive points by the Lady Bears to cut the gap to 50-49.
Hartley broke that streak with a basket that just beat the shot clock. After Griner was called for a charging foul, Stefanie Dolson hit a jumper for the Huskies.
Griner and Kelly Faris traded two free throws each around the 5-minute mark before the Lady Bears went ahead to stay on Terran Condrey’s 3-pointer that made it 58-56 with 4 1/2 minutes left.
”She wanted to get it into Griner, who was relocating in there, trying to get deeper and get deeper. She just saw an opportunity where the defender gave her an open look,” Mulkey said. ”If it goes in, you pat her on the back. And if it doesn’t, you go, `Why didn’t you get it to Griner?”’
Sims made four free throws in the final 1:21 to seal the game for Baylor.
Auriemma got a nice ovation when he came on the court about 4 minutes before tipoff, and responded by returning the applause to the crowd. Mulkey came out a couple of minutes later, and the cheers got really loud when the two coaches shook hands.
Griner made a short hook on the first shot of the game, and when she made another 6 minutes into the game, the Lady Bears had a 14-5 lead. That was the Huskies’ biggest deficit of the season.
Baylor didn’t trail until Connecticut made consecutive 3-pointers. Mosqueda-Lewis rattled one in from the right side with 5 minutes left and Hayes followed a Baylor miss with a shot from beyond the arc for a 27-26 lead.
Those long baskets came right after the Huskies had turnovers on three consecutive possessions, including a pair of steals by Sims, though the Bears got only two points out of that stretch. Sims had a breakaway layup after the first turnover, but got called for a charge when she tried it again and the Bears then turned it over themselves.