March 27, 2013

WOMEN'S BASKETBALL: Baylor having fun while pursuing 2nd straight women's title

BY STEPHEN HAWKINS AP Basketball Writer

WACO, Texas -- Brittney Griner stopped at the edge of the podium, pulled out her iPhone and made a goofy face.

click image to enlarge

Baylor's Brittney Griner (42) acknowledges cheers from fans as she leaves the court following their second-round game against Florida State in the women's NCAA college basketball tournament Tuesday, March 26, 2013, in Waco, Texas. Baylor won 85-47. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

AP

SWEET 16

No. 5 Louisville vs. No. 1 Baylor
When:
7:05 p.m. Sunday
Where: Oklahoma City
TV: ESPN2

Before taking a self-portrait in front of the NCAA tournament backdrop after her final home game for Baylor, when she became the first woman with three dunks in a game, the 6-foot-8 Griner had teammates Brooklyn Pope and Odyssey Sims join her with silly grins of their own.

When coach Kim Mulkey turned and saw what was going on behind her, she started laughing.

These Lady Bears are having fun and making the most of the time they have left together -- less than two weeks now and only four wins away from a second consecutive national championship.

Baylor (34-1), in the NCAA round of 16 for the fourth year in a row, plays Louisville (26-8) on Sunday night in Oklahoma City.

Griner had a fitting farewell at the Ferrell Center with 33 points, a career-high 22 rebounds and that trio of impressive dunks. The last two slams came after a tweet at halftime of the 85-47 victory over Florida State on Tuesday night.

In describing how her team is playing right now, Mulkey said: "It's scary good. And it's not just Brittney."

But Griner, one of five Lady Bears seniors, does create the most impressive highlights.

For her first dunk in the home finale, Griner caught a pass on the move from freshman Niya Johnson, took one more step without a dribble and went up for a one-handed slam. A tweet posted during halftime from Griner's account read: "Need two more dunks on home court for the best crowd ever!"

And she delivered with two slams in a 79-second span of the second half not long before she came out of the game for good.

Griner got another pass from Johnson, waited for a defender to move past and for a one-handed dunk. Soon after that, Griner grabbed the rebound of a missed 3-pointer while surrounded by three Seminoles and had a reverse slam.

After winning the Big 12 tournament championship with a 28-point victory over Kansas State, the Lady Bears opened the NCAA tourney with an 82-40 win over Prairie View. The NCAA's top overall seed then scored the game's first 11 points and had a 31-point halftime lead against Florida State on way to its 33rd consecutive victory overall and 57th in a row at home.

"If you look at our numbers across the board, it's not just Brittney's numbers," Mulkey said. "If you look at Odyssey's numbers, Destiny Williams' field goal percentage, our free throw percentage."

While Griner has averaged 33 points and 11 1/2 rebounds the past six games, Williams has made two-thirds of her field goal attempts (38 of 58) in the last eight games, even with a 2-for-6 night against the Seminoles. Sims has 41 assists with only 13 turnovers (seven coming in one game) in the same seven-game span when the Lady Bears are shooting 57 percent from the field as a team.

Baylor is 72-2 at home since the arrival of the senior trio of Griner, Kimetria Hayden and Jordan Madden. Griner played in only one of those losses, missing the regular season finale of her freshman season, a loss to Texas.

The Lady Bears have won every home game the past three seasons since point guard Sims arrived the same year that transfers Destiny Williams and Pope, the other current seniors, were able to start playing for the team. Sims can extend the home winning streak next season, but Griner and the other Lady Bears seniors will end their careers on the road -- preferably by lifting another national championship trophy in New Orleans on April 9.

The last time Baylor didn't make it past the NCAA round of 16 was 2009, before any of the current players, when Louisville won 56-39 in a third-round game. Now Baylor gets Louisville again.

In the other game at Oklahoma City on Sunday, Oklahoma plays Tennessee. Baylor has won six in a row against the Big 12 rival Sooners and last season beat the Lady Vols in another NCAA regional.

Mulkey said her players don't feel any pressure in trying to repeat as national champs.

"Getting another (national title) would be icing on the cake," Mulkey said. "If you don't win, would you be disappointed? Absolutely, we would be disappointed. But it won't be because of pressure to do it again.

"Their personality, they don't engage in pressure very much," she said. "It's go play, let's go play. We know we're good."

 

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