No. 1 Baylor women set to host second-ranked UConn

Brittney Griner has been looking forward to another shot against

Connecticut. She’ll get her chance on Sunday when top-ranked Baylor

faces the No. 2 Huskies.

The two teams met early last season with the rankings reversed

and UConn escaped with a one-point victory in Hartford, rallying

from a late eight-point deficit. The 6-foot-8 phenom felt the loss

was her fault.

”That last game with UConn has been on my mind for a long

time,” Griner said. ”The one thing I think about the most is my

free throws. It was just horrible that game. After that game, I hit

almost every free throw I attempted.”

Griner missed eight of 13 from the free throw line, including

some key misses down the stretch that allowed UConn to rally for

the 65-64 win.

She hasn’t been missing much of anything this season, leading

Baylor to victory after victory. Griner is averaging 22.8 points,

10.7 rebounds and 4.9 blocks in just 30 minutes a game this season

for the Lady Bears (10-0). She’s also shooting 73 percent from the

foul line.

So far Baylor and Connecticut’s games this season have been

anything but competitive. The Lady Bears have won by an average of

34.5 points. Throw out wins over ranked Notre Dame and Tennessee

and the margin jumps to nearly 40 a game.

”I know I’m definitely ready for a game like this. Our team is

ready for a game like this,” Griner said. ”These are the kind of

games basketball players live for, 1 vs. 2, big games. Nobody wants

to blow out a team, that’s not fun. You want hard competitive games

when everybody puts it on the line. Those games I love


There has been a definite buzz around Waco leading up to the

game, which sold out weeks in advance for the first time in school


”It’s great for women’s basketball, great for Baylor,” Lady

Bears coach Kim Mulkey said. ”The thing I will take away from it

win or lose, now we’ve played Notre Dame, we’ve played Connecticut,

we’ve got Big 12 coming up. … Win or lose, where do we need to

improve? It’s a gauge, nothing more than a gauge right now. That is

the way I will approach it after the game is over.”

Connecticut (9-0) has run through its opposition this season

winning by nearly 41.5 points a game, including a 30-point

demolition of defending national champion Texas A&M in the

Jimmy V Classic. Yet they are in a little different role, playing

only their second road game of the season and for once may not be

expected to win.

”It’s weird,” UConn center Stefanie Dolson said. ”Everyone

always says you don’t focus on the ranking and the hype that

everyone’s talking about. Who’s going to win? Who’s the underdog?

So for us we don’t really focus on that. We’re just going to kind

of go out and play as hard as we can, compete as hard as we can.

And whoever wins is the better team that night.”

There haven’t been many nights over the last few years that the

Huskies haven’t been the better team. It’s the first time in four

seasons that UConn will be playing a higher ranked opponent. UConn

has only lost twice in the last three seasons – falling at Stanford

last December that ended their record 90-game winning streak. The

Huskies then lost in the Final Four to Notre Dame.

”I don’t think there has been a better team in the country of

going on the road and playing against Top 5 teams in the country

and done a better job than us in the last 10 years or so,” UConn

coach Geno Auriemma said. ”That is the beauty of it. I am like a

fan going down there Sunday night. I really want to see how we

handle this.”

Auriemma always expects greatness out of his players. He got to

know Griner while she played for the U.S. national women’s

basketball team on a European tour this past Fall and came away


”There’s nobody else in the world like her,” Auriemma said.

”I don’t care who Australia has. I don’t care who Russia has or

anybody else has. Nobody has anybody like Brittney Griner …

There’s things that she can do that no one else can do on any other

team in the world.”

Griner has a mutual respect for the Hall of Fame coach. She even

spent a little time on the trip going to the town in Italy where he

was born and meeting his family.

”I always viewed him as a great coach, he’s done a lot for the

UConn program and women’s basketball,” she said. ”I view him as

an opponent this game, but this past summer, he was my coach.

You’ve got to turn it on. Like when you’re playing in AAU, your

best friend would be on another team, you’re best friends, but both

are trying to win, doing everything to win and at the end of the

day you’re still best friends. It’s the competitive nature.”

Sadly this might be the last time these two meet as opponents

unless it’s in the NCAA tournament. The budding rivalry will come

to an end Sunday as the two teams aren’t schedule to play against

next season. UConn first beat Griner and Baylor when she was a

freshman in the Final Four.

ESPN NBA analyst Jeff Van Gundy, who will be broadcasting the

game, was disappointed to hear that they won’t be playing anymore

in the regular season.

””They should do a mini playoff series, three straight

games,” he said.” Once you get past the top 10 or 15 teams, who’s

challenging these teams? The preseason is almost a joke, beating

teams by 30 or 40. It’s not good for the sport.”

AP Basketball Writer Stephen Hawkins contributed from Waco,


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