By Stephen Hawkins
WACO — Brittney Griner scored the first six points of the game and third-ranked Baylor had the first 17, extending its home winning streak to 45 in a row with a 76-53 victory over 10th-ranked Tennessee on Tuesday night.
Griner finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds, her third consecutive double-double and 47th of her career. Brooklyn Pope had 11 points and 16 rebounds.
Griner, the 6-foot-8 two-time All-American, had nine of Baylor’s first 11 points less than 4 minutes into the game. The Lady Bears (9-1) won their seventh in a row since losing to top-ranked Stanford a week into the season.
Tennessee (7-2) had won seven in a row, including four games against Top 25 teams, since opening its first season under new head coach Holly Warlick with a loss at Tennessee-Chattanooga.
In a rematch of last year’s NCAA regional final, a 77-58 Lady Bears victory in what was Tennessee coach Pat Summitt’s final game last March, the Lady Vols trailed 41-16 at the half.
That was the largest halftime deficit in Lady Vols history. They missed their first 11 shots before Cierra Burdick’s long jumper with 13:05 left in the first half, then Meighan Simmons scored on a layup a half-minute later after a Baylor miss.
Baylor returned all five starters from its 40-0 national championship team. The Lady Vols returned none from last season and now have a lineup featuring no seniors and one junior.
The Lady Vols trailed 33-13 at Rutgers in January 2009, which had been the previous largest halftime deficit. Rutgers scored the first 14 points that night, but Tennessee rallied after halftime for a 55-51 victory.
No such luck against Griner and the Lady Bears, who are 101-1 against nonconference teams at home in coach Kim Mulkey’s 13 seasons.
After Simmons made a 3-pointer and then two free throws early in the second half to get within 47-26, Tennessee didn’t get closer until cutting the deficit to 20 in the closing minutes after Griner was on the bench for good. The Lady Bears then scored seven points in a row capped by Kimetria Hayden’s 3-pointer.
Hayden had 16 points and six assists for the Lady Bears. Jordan Madden had 12 points while Odysssy Sims, the preseason All-American, had eight points, eight assists and two steals with only two turnovers in 35 minutes.
Simmons had 16 points while Kamiko Williams had 15 points, 10 rebounds and six assists for the Lady Vols.
Griner scored on an inside basket while being fouled, though she missed the free throw, and also had a short baseline jumper in the opening minute of the game. She went down the court clapping her hands and encouraging her teammates with “Let’s go!”
When Griner rebounded her own miss, she quickly turned around and made a short baseline jumper that ratted in for a 6-0 lead only 1:37 into the game.
It was 11-0 after Griner’s three-point play. Sims then had a steal and a breakaway layup, and converted a steal by Hayden into another layup even after initially losing the handle while going up for the shot that made it 17-0.
Hayden had three consecutive 3-pointers for the Lady Bears before Pope had two layups as part of a 13-0 spurt later in the first half.
The Lady Vols hadn’t played in 14 days before their Texas two-step which started with a 94-75 victory at then-18th-ranked Texas on Sunday. They are back home Saturday against Stanford.
Stanford’s 81 home wins in a row is the only active streak longer than Baylor, which doesn’t play again until Dec. 29 against Southeastern Louisiana in its last nonconference game of the season.
The teams honored the victims of the Connecticut mass shooting with green and white T-shirts representing the colors of Sandy Hook Elementary School. Players wore them during pregame warmups, and throughout the game when on the bench.
The shirts had the letters S.H.E.S. and the words “We will remember” along with the picture of a ribbon. Coaches from both teams wore green and white ribbons, and there was a moment of silence before the game for the victims and families affected by the tragedy Friday in Newtown, Conn.