Brittney Griner smirks as she blocks a K-State shot in the Big 12 semifinals, one of seven in the game and 18 in the tournament, a new record. (Credit: Brendan Maloney-US PRESSWIRE)
The Baylor Lady Bears added a tournament title to their Big 12 regular season title at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City today. Baylor started on a tear, racing to a 10-0 advantage that grew to 17-2. Gary Blair's Texas A&M Aggies looked on the ropes just eight minutes into the contest. But they weren't - or at least not yet. The Aggies battled back to get the lead to six with to 11 minutes to play in the half after scoring nine unanswered.
Both teams played the pressure defense we're accustomed to seeing that resulted in 20 total turnovers in the first 20 minutes. The foul trouble of Griner and Sims (both with two) opened the door the TAMU to make a run, particularly since Mulkey called it "gut check" time and left the women in to play. But the Bears held A&M to 28.6 percent shooting from the field, Baylor outrebounded the Aggies 25-11 in the first half, and the Bears came away with a 35-20 halftime lead.
Only one starter scored for A&M in the first period of play, one. Any time your top scorer comes off the bench to score eight of your 20 points, you know points are at a premium. Her season stats show Adrienna Pratcher had nearly doubled her average of 4.5 points a game at the break.
The second half started basket for basket, but last 20 minutes was really just a formality. The Bears extended the lead to 31 with 11:24 to play with an Odyssey Sims theft and layup. With 7:47 to play the Baylor lead was 65-36 and the game was well on it's way to being the least competitive Big 12 Championship game in history. The largest margin of victory previous to today was a 19-point win for Oklahoma as they swamped Texas in 2004.
Baylor finished with four players reaching the double-digit scoring mark, led by Sims' 26 points. Block machine Brittney Griner swatted six shots in the game and eclipsed the Big 12 Tournament's block benchmark. The Most Outstanding Player of the tourney also hit a new record of 45 points in a tournament game in the semifinals against K-State. The Bears got the 73-50 win to cruise into the NCAA tournament with their perfect 34-0 record.
I've gone back and forth over if I think that Baylor will lose this season. After every conference foe has had at least two and sometimes three tries at it, one thing is clear - they won't be losing to a Big 12 team. Based on bracket match ups, there might be an opportunity for a team like Stanford to unseat the No. 1 team.
The Cardinal play hard-nosed defense that might have the potential to disrupt the ball movement to the inside to slow down Griner, or even get her in foul trouble. Stanford's hustle despite their 'calm in the midst of chaos' demeanor might be enough to make the Bears uncomfortable enough to get them off their game. The jumpability of the Ogwumike sisters could allow Stanford to battle more effectively for both offensive and defensive rebounds. The scoreability of Nneka and Chiney might counteract some of the efforts from the Bears. But past Stanford, I'm not sure the Bears will be losing this season.
It will take a great game by their opponent coupled with a not-so-great outing for Baylor to see this year's Goliath go down. Or the Bears will get to 40 wins on the season, a first for NCAA women's basketball, as they cut down the nets in Denver.
Oh yeah, and don't expect for the roster of the Bears to look much different next year. FSN rolled a video package of Kim Mulkey firmly stating that Griner will be back in Waco for her senior season despite being eligible to apply for the WNBA draft. "She's not going anywhere," Mulkey said with conviction.