In topflight battle, No. 1 Lady Bears defeat No. 2 UConn, 66-61

No. 3 guard Jordan Madden attempts to call a time out while battling for the ball during the game against No. 2 Connecticut Sunday at the Ferrell Center. The Bears ended up celebrating a 66-61 victory over the Huskies.
Matt Hellman | Lariat Photo Editor
No. 42 forward Brittney Griner shoots for two points against the Huskies.
Matt Hellman | Lariat Photo Editor

By Chris Derrett
Editor in chief

Brittney Griner scored 25 points and nearly notched a triple double as No. 1 Baylor surged in the second half to topple No. 2 Connecticut, 66-61, Sunday night at the Ferrell Center.

Odyssey Sims added 23 points while Griner was only one block and one rebound away from the triple double.

“We’re 11-0, ranked No. 1 in the country and probably will be next week. It’s great recognition for our university. In some ways, it’s a great reward for our fans,” coach Kim Mulkey said.

The fans at Sunday’s game tied a Ferrell Center attendance record of 10,627, set last March when Baylor men’s basketball faced Texas.

After a Connecticut bucket seven minutes into the second half pushed the Huskies’ lead to 50-39, the Lady Bears scored 10 straight points during a 16-4 run that gave them a 55-54 lead. The Huskies briefly grabbed a 56-55 lead with a pair of free throws, but Terran Condrey’s 3-pointer allowed Baylor to retake a 58-56 advantage. Baylor did not trail after Condrey’s basket.

“It means a lot. I think I shot the ball with confidence on that shot,” Condrey said. “Actually, when I shot it, I thought it was short. I didn’t feel like I jumped high enough to shoot it, but I’m happy it went in.”

A Griner basket following a Connecticut turnover expanded the lead to 60-56, and Griner later answered Bria Hartley’s jumper with another score in the post that gave the Lady Bears a 62-58 lead.

Sims knocked down four consecutive free throws to seal the win and give Mulkey her first career win over coach Geno Auriemma’s Huskies.

“There should maybe 10 or 15 of these [games] every year where it comes down to the last two minutes of the game,” Auriemma said.

In addition to her high-pressure free throws, Sims went 7 of 11 Sunday night, grabbed four steals and hauled in four rebounds. Auriemma figured Griner would turn in a predictably dominating performance and felt Sims would determine the game.

“I think it was some of Odyssey Sims’ plays at the end of the game that made a difference,” Auriemma said.

Mulkey’s squad weathered Connecticut’s early second half run, a 16-6 stretch in which the Huskies hit four 3-pointers and grew their lead to 50-39. Hartley nailed two of them, adding to her 25-point effort on 10 of 17 shooting and 5 of 8 from 3-point range.

After Tiffany Hayes drained a trey at 14:46, though, Connecticut hit just one more from beyond the arc. Even then, it came from Hartley with 13 seconds left and the game essentially out of reach.

“I’d like to credit our defense. But until I see the film, I don’t know that our defense was any better than it was when [Connecticut] was hitting those shots,” Mulkey said.

There is no doubt Griner made an impact on the defensive end. Her nine rejected shots upped her career total to 451 and broke Oklahoma’s Courtney Paris’ Big 12 record of 442.

“Shot blocking is the one thing that I love the most. To me, that’s better than a dunk or anything like that,” Griner said.

While Connecticut’s perimeter shooting cooled to a dismal 1 of 11 over the last 14 minutes, Griner heated up as her teammates worked harder to feed her the ball. The 6-foot-8 junior attempted only one field goal in the first 7:31 of the second half, then battled her way to 3 of 7 for the rest of the game. She was responsible for eight points in Baylor’s 16-4 run, which was capped by Condrey’s 3-pointer.

Griner was also effective much of the first half, when the Lady Bears raced out to a 19-12 lead at the 11:45 mark. At that point, she was 4 of 5 from the field and had drawn two fouls on the Huskies’ starting center, Stefanie Dolson.

Connecticut clamped down defensively, however, and held Griner to two shot attempts for the rest of the half. With Griner taken out of the Lady Bears’ offensive game, the Huskies erased a 26-21 deficit with back-to-back 3-pointers from Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Hayes and went ahead, 27-26.

Lewis finished with 15 points and Hayes finished with 10, joining Hartley as the Huskies’ three double-digit scorers.