Ann Killion
Tuesday March 23rd, 2010

BERKELEY, Calif. -- Prodigy, meet history.

In the first glamour matchup of the NCAA Women's tournament on Saturday, the game's newest sensation will take on its most storied program.

Brittney Griner and Baylor will face Pat Summit's top-seeded Tennessee team in the Sweet 16 in the Memphis Regional.

"I hope it's interesting," said Baylor coach Kim Mulkey on Monday night. "I know I can't outcoach Pat so my players better outplay hers."

You'd be hard-pressed to tell if Baylor can do that based on the Bears' 49-33 victory over Georgetown on Monday night. The Hoyas had a historically bad shooting night, missing their first 14 shots, shooting just 11.8 percent in the second half and 17 percent for the game. Baylor wasn't much better, shooting 38 percent and turning the ball over 21 times.

But Griner made her presence known. The 6-foot-8 freshman set an NCAA record for blocked shots with 14, breaking a mark set by UNLV's Pauline Jordan that had stood since 1989.

Griner had more blocked shots than Georgetown had baskets.

Despite the record, Griner revealed plenty of holes in her game. She scored only seven points and pulled down seven rebounds in 27 minutes.

"She looked like a freshman," Mulkey said. "She's a player who draws a lot of attention."

That's an understatement. In the past three weeks, Griner has drawn more attention than she could ever want. She punched Texas Tech player Jordan Barncastle in the face, receiving a two-game suspension and becoming a human highlight in the process.

No one could predict how Griner would respond in her first NCAA tournament. But she came to Berkeley composed and contrite, answering all the questions put to her.

"I've learned from my mistake," she said. "I would like people not to judge me off that one incident. It'll never happen again."

Griner's actions -- combined with other incidents such as the New Mexico soccer player Elizabeth Lambert's ponytail-pulling foul-a-thon last fall -- have spurred a dialogue about violence in women's sports.

"I just feel like it's competitive," Griner said. "People look at women's sports as not as competitive as the boys so it's more shocking, I guess. But women are just as competitive. You're starting to see that.

"Though," she added, "that's not the right way for it to come out."

Mulkey scoffed at the concept that things are getting more aggressive. She thinks the uproar is an outcome of both women's sports gaining more visibility and the 24-7 news cycle.

"It's exposure," said Mulkey, who starred at Louisiana Tech in the early 1980s. "You think it hasn't been going on since when I played?"

For Griner and Baylor, the best way to put the controversy behind them is to create a conversation about other things. Griner -- who says she became known as "YouTube girl" because of the number of hits on videos of her dunking in high school -- has yet to dunk in the tournament. But setting a NCAA record for blocked shots in her second NCAA game wasn't a bad start.

Griner usually dominates the paint. But she'll face a tough matchup in Tennessee. The Lady Vols sophomore center Kelley Cain is just two inches shorter than Griner and has been improving all season.

The teams met in the opener this season, with Tennessee prevailing 74-65.

"We've grown so much -- on the floor off the floor, in the gym, outside the gym," said Baylor's lone senior, Morghan Medlock. "Our young kids are learning how to execute the plays. I think this will be a completely different game than it was at the beginning of the season. We're two totally different teams."

There's not much history between the teams. This will be only the third time they have met: Other than the November matchup, Baylor lost to Tennessee in the Sweet 16 in 2004.

That year Tennessee was on its way to another national championship game, another notch in its historical record. The prodigy, in contrast, was only 13 and hadn't yet started to play organized basketball.

"We understand what we're up against with Tennessee," Mulkey said. "It's a monumental challenge."

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