April 1, 2012; Denver, CO, USA; Stanford Cardinal forward Nnemkadi Ogwumike (30) shoots the ball against Baylor Bears center Brittney Griner (42) during the second half in the semifinals of the 2012 NCAA women's basketball Final Four at the Pepsi Center. Chris Humphreys-US PRESSWIRE
There is no question that Baylor Lady Bears center Brittney Griner was the Most Outstanding Player in the 2012 NCAA women's Final Four.
And if you want to get into a discussion about whether Griner is the greatest women's basketball player ever, her performance in Baylor's 80-61 win over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish last night was as good an example as any to make the case for her.
Although a closer look at her statistics certainly illustrates that, it was the things that are harder to quantify - or at least attribute to one individual - that truly illustrate Griner's dominance.
Most Outstanding Player: Brittney Griner, Junior, C - Baylor Lady Bears
What sets Griner apart as particularly single in the women's basketball landscape is nothing you can truly quantify but that her "triple dagger" of athleticism, size, and skill fundamentally alters the way that both her opponents and teammates play the game.
At no other time was that on display - albeit more subtle than a two-handed dunk, a get that crap out of here block, or a turnaround jumper on the baseline - than how she picked up her lone assist late in the second half.
With Griner positioned at the elbow on an inbounds play, three Notre Dame defenders flocked to her as she made a half jump to receive a lob pass from under the basket. As Griner landed with three defenders left helpless to either intercept the pass or guard anyone else, she quickly found a teammate cutting into the paint unguarded for a wide open layup.
There are other players who a coach could conceivably run that play for, but very few have the athleticism to get up and get the lob and coordinated skill to make the pass. Most of all, few - if any - are even a big enough threat to demand that much attention from defenders that far away from the basket. It's small, but demonstrates her massive impact. And the stats just further reinforce that.
After a mediocre game (by her lofty standards) in the Final Four, Griner was responsible for 30.85% of Baylor's overall statistical production in the title game. Her 8-for-9 second half shooting gave her a true shooting percentage of nearly 70%, perhaps not astounding for someone who takes the majority of the shots close to the basket, but certainly impressive when taking into account the number of off-balance shots she hits over double teams. And almost paling in comparison to all that, she dominated the boards defensively with a defensive rebounding rate of 34%.
However, if we were to nitpick, the thing that still stands out as an area of development for Griner's game is offensive rebounding; although Baylor did dominate Notre Dame on the boards, Griner only had one offensive rebound for the entire game that came in the first 10 minutes. But that's the great thing about her returning to school instead of making the leap to go pro, as highlighted by SB Nation Dallas' Steven Godfrey.
"Whatever Coach says, that's what I'll do," Griner said. "She's led me in the right direction at Baylor. I have to get louder on court and in practice. I'm going to do better on offensive boards. But right at the moment, I'm not thinking about next year. All I know is I'm going to be right here at Baylor."
She's only going to get better.
Runner-up: Odyssey Sims, G, Sophomore - Baylor Lady Bears
Similar to Griner, Sims will only get better and she had an immeasurable impact on the defensive end against both Notre Dame and Stanford - she simply overwhelms opposing point guards with her athleticism and physique, which prevents them from running their offense efficiently.
But once again, it was that she found a way to contribute even on a poor shooting night that demonstrates her development over last season - Sims tied for a team-high 4 offensive rebounds, with an impressive offensive rebounding percentage of 14.26%. Although her pure point rating of 1.75 is rather pedestrian, against Notre Dame's defense her 16.52% assist ratio compared to a 8.26% turnover ratio isn't exactly bad either.
The Griner-Sims combination will only become stronger next season as both continue to expand their games, but Sims' ability to run the team as its point guard without costing them too many possessions in the form of turnovers could be a critical aspect of the team's success next year.
Nneka Ogwumike, F, Senior - Stanford Cardinal
Ogwumike was simply outstanding in the Cardinal's loss to the Lady Bears, scoring 22 points and controlling the boards. The problem was that she didn't get much help in their bid to end Baylor's undefeated season.
Ogwumike had an extremely high usage rate of 40.7%, with Lindy La Rocque being the only other Cardinal player to record a usage rate over 20%. Having to bear so much of the offensive burden, Ogwumike's true shooting percentage of 43.65% was much lower than normal. But that's really just further evidence of Griner and Sims' impact - Stanford struggled to get into their offense and Ogwumike shot five threes, certainly not the norm. Yet if you put those threes aside, she actually had an impressive game, considering: 50% 2-point shooting isn't bad when taking it against a Griner-led defense.
Skylar Diggins, G, Junior - Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Diggins didn't put on her best performances in this year's Final Four, but if there was a bright spot for the Irish against Baylor she was it. She had team-highs of 20 points and 3 assists to go with 0 turnovers to put up a pure point rating of 5.40.
Sims might've gotten the best of the meeting in some regard, but Diggins still has room to improve on both ends of the floor as well, meaning the matter of best point guard in the nation isn't a closed case just yet.
Destiny Williams, F, Junior - Baylor Lady Bears
Williams' presence on the boards has been huge for the Lady Bears all season and with Griner drawing so much defensive attention, Williams is a primary beneficiary on the offensive boards.
After leading the march to the free throw line against Stanford with 10 attempts, Williams was part of that three-way tie for game-high 4 offensive rebounds in Baylor's dominant board performance against Notre Dame. Offensively, her 12 points came with a true shooting percentage of 76.14%.
However, strictly looking at the numbers - and partially because of the dominance of both Griner and Sims - there are other players who deserve mention.
Marginal Victories Produced in the Final Four
Stefanie Dolson had an outstanding game in the first half against Notre Dame despite being limited by foul trouble in the second half. There's little question that her presence was a large part of what helped UConn establish a first half lead.
Both Chiney Ogwumike and Devereaux Peters were also limited by foul trouble, but analyzing their impact is a bit more difficult despite the surprising numbers above. Although Ogwumike didn't have a big game statistically, she didn't hurt the team much statistically either - that more than anything is reflected in the numbers above. Peters is in a similar position in terms of her foul trouble in the national championship game, but even her first game's statistics might have been inflated by the absence of any way to quantify defense effectively - she was guarding Dolson for much of the first half and wasn't able to contain her.
And what of a player like Terran Condrey who played so well in the semifinal? Had Condrey not stepped up against Stanford's defensive scheme, Baylor would have struggled to pull away from the Cardinal. Although others overshadowed her in the national championship game, it's hard to deny that she stepped up as much as anyone in the Final Four.
For more on this game and the 2012 NCAA women's basketball tournament, check out our "NCAA Tournament 2012" section.