By Beth Rucker
Associated Press Sports Writer
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — With Tennessee playing strong defense, Brittney Griner realized just her presence on the court wouldn’t be enough for Baylor to win this one.
So the preseason All-America focused just a little harder, and Griner scored 17 of her 26 points in the second half as the top-ranked Lady Bears pulled out a 76-67 win against the No. 6 Lady Volunteers.
“I was just listening to my coaches and getting on myself, ‘Get deep, get deep, get the ball and go up strong,'” Griner said.
Baylor entered the game averaging 53.8 rebounds per contest, but Tennessee outmanned the Lady Bears on the glass 55-42. The second chances weren’t enough with the Lady Vols shooting just 29.3 percent.
Baylor has beaten Tennessee in three consecutive seasons now, despite the Lady Vols holding the rebounding advantage in each of those games.
“We took their best shot,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. “How many games are you going to get outrebounded as much as we did, particularly on the offensive end, and win?”
Tennessee took a 39-31 lead on Glory Johnson’s free throw with 17:39 left, but Griner had a pair of layups in an 11-2 run for the Lady Bears. The second gave Baylor a 42-41 lead with 15 minutes left.
Baylor (6-0) shot just 34.5 percent in the first half but hit 48.4 percent after the break as Griner fought her way to the basket more. With every made layup, Griner seemed to relax a little more, and a layup by Griner with 8:32 to play gave Baylor its ultimate lead.
The Lady Vols tried doubling up on Griner at times, which only opened up opportunities for Sims and Madden. Sims hit a 3-pointer with 7:30 to go, and Madden had a trey of her own with 6:21 to play that gave Baylor a 59-55 lead.
Tennessee (2-2) pulled within four points off a pair of free throws by Johnson with 2:03 left but would get no closer. On Baylor’s next possession, Griner took an in-bound pass with 2 seconds on the shot clock and cleanly sank a jumper from the free throw line at the buzzer for a 67-61 lead with 1:32 left.
Odyssey Sims added 23 points and Jordan Madden had 11 points for the Lady Bears, who also beat then-No. 2 Notre Dame on Nov. 20. They’ve got a Dec. 18 meeting with current No. 2 Connecticut.
“Baylor is a great team, and I don’t think we’ll see one any better,” Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said.
Shekinna Stricklen, Griner’s fellow All-America, led the Lady Vols with 25 points and 12 rebounds and Baugh added 17 points and 10 rebounds. Taber Spani added 10 points, and Glory Johnson grabbed 11 rebounds.
The loss was the Lady Vols’ 21st on their home court since moving to Thompson-Boling Arena in 1987. It ended a 38-game home winning streak — their third longest — dating back to a Feb. 16, 2009, loss to Duke.
Baylor led by as many as eight points in the first half thanks to 10 of 11 shooting from the free-throw line. Tennessee found its way to the charity stripe too while fighting for points in the lane, and a pair of free throws and a 3-point shot by Stricklen helped erase the Lady Bears’ lead.
Another 3-pointer by Stricklen with 5:51 in the first half knotted the score at 22 points, and Tennessee controlled the game through the rest of the half by taking charge of the boards.
“I tried to challenge myself in the past three games and come out with energy,” Stricklen said. “That’s something that I think I can bring for the team. We just came out strong, and we just had a good first half.”
The matchup was dubbed a “We Back Pat” game in support of Summitt, who announced in August she had been diagnosed with early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type.
Both teams wore purple shirts that said “We Back Pat” while warming up, and Tennessee presented $75,000 checks from the proceeds of T-shirt sales to Alzheimer’s Tennessee and the UT Medical Center for Alzheimer’s research, treatment and education programs.
Summitt and son Tyler Summitt also announced at halftime they had created the Pat Summitt Foundation to further raise money for Alzheimer’s programs.