Center’s career-high leads Lady Bears to Elite Eight berth
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 on Sunday at the American Airlines Center. The Lady Bears advanced to their second consecutive Elite Eight behind a career-high 40 points from sophomore Brittney Griner.
“March Madness. When I’m feeling it in games, it’s just something that comes over you,” Griner said.
Griner and company came out on a mission in the opening minutes.
The Lady Bears, who posted a season-high 58.9 field goal percentage by the end, burst through the gates to a 14-2 lead as four different starters got involved in the scoring.
It didn’t take long for Baylor to utilize the height mismatch on the block with the 6-foot-8 Griner.
“Even with two or three defenders [covering Griner], we still have to get her touches,” freshman guard Odyssey Sims said.
Griner had 13 of her team’s first 29 points before taking a seat on the bench for the remaining 5:51 of the half with two fouls.
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.
With Griner on the bench early for the second straight game, sophomore Brooklyn Pope again filled the scoring void.
After Green Bay pulled within four, the sophomore post added three straight buckets in the closing minutes of the half.
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 cut the deficit to three points multiple times thanks largely to senior Celeste Hoewisch’s four treys on the night.
When Baylor needed an offensive kick to distance itself for the final time, though, 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 10 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.”
While Griner may be one of a kind, the Elite Eight trip pits No. 1 seed Baylor against No. 2 seed Texas A&M at 8 p.m. today in Dallas, where Griner must rub elbows for the fourth time this year with the only conference foe who averaged more points than her this season.
Now averaging 23.1 a contest, Griner recently passed Texas A&M senior Danielle Adams as the Big 12’s leading scorer.
The Lady Bears have been successful in containing Adams in the three previous meetings this year.
The senior post, who averages 22.7 a game, was held to nine, 12 and 13 points the first three matchups.
The games have been anything but one-sided, though.
Both in the first meeting Jan. 30 and the last meeting March 12 in the Big 12 Championship, the Aggies had looks from behind the arc at the buzzer that would have sent the game into overtime.
In the Valentine’s Day matchup in Waco, the Lady Bears had to come from behind late in the second half to claim a nine-point victory.
The Aggies are coming off a 79-38 Sweet 16 round win over Georgia on Sunday.
Though thankful for the Elite Eight birth and the anticipated packed house, Mulkey can’t help but imagine playing a nonconference opponent for the chance to advance.
“If you have worked so hard through the course of a year to gain a one and a two seed, it’s a newness and a freshness you’re looking for in the NCAA playoffs,” Mulkey said. “The crowd and all that will be awesome, but truly it’s going to be sad for whoever loses because we lose an opportunity, in my opinion, to have two teams that should be in the Final Four this year.”