Prairie View-Baylor Preview

Brittney Griner arrived at Baylor known as the girl who could

dunk.

The 6-foot-8 Griner has obliged over the years with some

rim-rattling highlights. Even in her last regular-season home game,

she made a quick spin move around a Kansas State defender on the

baseline for a one-handed slam.

While the 14 career dunks are impressive – fun, too – Griner

always wanted to be known for more than just slamming the ball. Add

in all the blocks, points and championships, and she has indeed

proven to be so much more in four seasons with the Lady Bears.

”A lot of people come up to me all the time and just tell me,

just compliment me on my game, other than the dunks and the

scoring,” she said. ”Just how I find my teammates and just

everything, how I move on the court. That let me know right there

that, hey, I’m kind of getting away from the YouTube dunker

girl.”

Going into her final NCAA tournament, the defending national

champion Lady Bears (32-1) are again the No. 1 overall seed. They

have a nation’s-best 55-game winning streak at home, where they

play their tourney opener Sunday night against SWAC champion

Prairie View (17-14).

The Lady Panthers have won eight in a row after starting 9-14,

including a wild 100-87, four-overtime victory over Mississippi

Valley State in the SWAC tournament championship game, but they

have a big problem to deal with Sunday.

Griner is the Big 12 career scoring leader with 3,203 points,

190 short of the NCAA record with no more than six games left. She

has a nearly 7 1/2-foot wingspan that contributes greatly to the

record she really cherishes: 736 blocked shots, more than any other

man or woman ever in the NCAA.

”She’s one of a kind,” Kansas State coach Deb Patterson said.

”Look at the great run that Baylor has made with the Final Four

and national championship, and really, a second potential national

championship on the line, her impact is hard to measure with

words.”

The dunk against Kansas State was part of Griner’s Big 12-record

50 points in a game. Five days later in the Big 12 tournament,

Griner had 19 points, 13 rebounds and a career-high nine assists in

another game against the Wildcats.

”No matter what anybody says, she’s not great because of her

size,” Patterson said. ”She’s great because she continued to

improve her repertoire and compete extraordinarily well.”

Her high school dunks made Griner a YouTube sensation, with as

many as seven per game for Houston Nimitz. They even caught the

attention of the likes of NBA superstar LeBron James, who met

Griner when she was still in high school and has kept up with her

since.

”She’s awesome,” James said. ”It’s not like she’s just

catching and laying it or dunking every time either. She’s shooting

turnaround jumpers. She’s drop-stepping over her left shoulder,

right shoulder, shooting jumpers. She’s got a fadeaway jumper. And

she’s dunking the ball, too. She’s great.”

Griner still hears plenty of jeers and taunts from opposing fans

during games. And there is no shortage of insults and insinuations

about her on social media.

Griner used to be bothered and angered by some of the things

said and written about her. She shrugs it off now.

”I went on Twitter and typed in my name just to see what people

were saying, and it was pretty funny,” Griner said. ”They don’t

know what they’re talking about. They’re mad, (I) probably beat

their team. They’re jealous. … In one ear, out the other, and I

use it kind of as entertainment really, just to see some of the

ignorant stuff that they will say.”

Or what will be made up, like the fake Twitter account somebody

created representing the New Orleans Pelicans (the future name of

the NBA’s Hornets) to congratulate Anthony Davis, the first overall

pick in last year’s NBA draft, for ”becoming engaged to Brittney

Griner.”

That obviously wasn’t true, but it even surprised Griner,

certain to be the WNBA’s first overall pick this year.

”It sounded legit how they said it, and worded it,” she said.

”I was like, `Wow!’ Kind of made me believe. … I looked at my

hand.”

The only ring she had on was the one signifying the Lady Bears’

national championship last year, going undefeated in the NCAA’s

first 40-win season.

”Brittney Griner, after winning the national championship last

year, should have erased any doubt in people’s minds as the

greatest to ever play the game,” coach Kim Mulkey said.

It’s hard to believe that Griner was like any other freshman

when she arrived, nervous and unsure what to expect. The Lady Bears

went 27-10 her first season, and made it to the NCAA Final Four

before a national semifinal loss to Connecticut. They are 106-4

since.

There was also that punch late in her freshman season after

tangling under the basket with a Texas Tech player. After being

slung back and lunging toward the baseline, Griner stopped, took

two steps and delivered a roundabout right to Jordan Barncastle’s

face.

Like so many of Griner’s dunks, the video of that punch went

viral. She got an automatic one-game NCAA suspension, and Mulkey

added a second. It’s something Griner still regrets happened.

But Griner is constantly pushed and shoved during games with

opposing teams often putting two, three and sometimes even more

defenders on her.

As fierce as Griner can be during games, including occasional

scowls and chest pounding, she is fun-loving and often goofy off

the court.

After her 50-point game on senior night, Griner pedaled around

the court on a tricycle used for student races during timeouts of

Baylor games. She rides an elongated skateboard on campus, where

other students find out she’s just another college kid.

”She’s a great person. She talks to everybody. She’s always

laughing and joking around,” said Baylor men’s point guard Pierre

Jackson, the Big 12’s leading scorer. ”She just makes everybody

smile.”

Jackson was a junior college transfer and admittedly ”kind of

star-struck” by her when he first got to Baylor two years ago. She

introduced herself to Jackson to break the ice.

There are less than three weeks left in her college career that

Griner realizes ”just went so quick.” She will leave an indelible

mark on the women’s game, even though she cringes when asked about

her impact on the game.

”I just feel like I’m adding on,” she said. ”I guess you can

say I’m changing the defensive end … just because I’m so big and

I move. I’m not stationary.

”I want people to look back and be like, `Dang, I remember when

I played her back in college, she was a game-changer on the

defensive end,” Griner added. ”I want that to be my mark on the

defensive end.”

Well, that’s a slam dunk.