By Matt Larsen
DALLAS – No. 1 seed Baylor needed no time to rebuild momentum as it battled past No. 5 seed Wisconsin-Green Bay 86-76 behind a career high 40-point performance for sophomore Brittney Griner and a season-high 58.9 team field goal percentage.
“March Madness,” Griner said. “When I’m feeling it in games, it’s just something that comes over you. If I’m feeling it, I keep going until I can’t, until somebody else starts feeling it.”
Griner and company came out on a mission in the opening minutes.
The Lady Bears burst through the gates to a 14-2 lead as four different starters got involved in the scoring.
The Phoenix responded with a pair of threes to bring it to 18-8 and ignite their own offense.
It didn’t take long for Baylor to utilize the height mismatch on the block with the combination of Phoenix players ranging from 5-foot-7 to 6-foot-3 guarding 6-foot-8 Griner.
“Even with two or three defenders [covering Griner], we still have to get her touches,” freshman guard Odyssey Sims said. “Because that draws the defense to her and creates open opportunities for other players on the team. When BG gets going early, it’s impossible to slow her down.”
Griner had 13 of her team’s first 29 points before being called for a charge to earn her second foul and a seat on the bench for the remaining 5:51 of the half.
Griner wasn’t the only No. 42 doing work under the hoop though. Green Bay’s No. 42 Kayla Teteschlag led her team in points and rebounds both halves and never left the court. The senior eventually finished her complete game with a double-double 27 points and 10 boards.
Green Bay continued to use three-point looks and the lack of Griner’s presence in the paint to slowly narrow the gap. The Phoenix had four players with a three-point bucket in the first twenty minutes, and two of those hit two treys.
With Griner on the bench early for the second straight game, sophomore Brooklyn Pope again filled the scoring void. The sophomore post added three straight buckets after Green Bay pulled within four points with 2:36 left in the half. “Those were big buckets,” head coach Kim Mulkey said.
Sims had the final say of the half though as she dribbled up the court and banked a running three from just past the center circle as the buzzer sounded.
If Baylor came out the aggressor to open the first half, Green Bay came charging out of the locker room to open the second. The Phoenix closed the gap to 49-46 in the first four minutes with Griner back on the floor.
As the Lady Bears seemed poised to pull away once again, senior Celeste Hoewisch connected on her second three of the half to pull back within three. The senior guard finished with 20 points, 12 of those coming from behind the arc.
When Baylor needed an offensive kick to distance itself for the final time, it knew exactly where to turn.
The Lady Bears’ leading scorers all season, Griner and Sims, took command. The guard-post duo combined to drop 14 straight points to take a 66-49 lead with 9:55 to play.
Though it closed the gap to ten and matched the Lady Bears’ rebound mark at 34 with what seemed a relentless fight from its senior-laden squad, the Phoenix never overcame that deficit.
Baylor’s only two double-digit scorers, the freshman-sophomore pair, sank 58 of their team’s 76 total points. “People don’t need to take her for granted,” Mulkey said of the Naismith finalist after her career-high points and double-double outing. “You’re never going to see another Brittney Griner.”
The Lady Bears will take on No. 2 seed Texas A&M in Dallas on Tuesday. The 8 p.m. game at the American Airlines Center will be televised on ESPN.