Three things we learned from watching No. 1-ranked Baylor's 66-61 win over No. 2 UConn on Sunday night ...
1. Brittney Griner played the best game of her career. Sure, her stat line was monstrous (25 points, nine rebounds and nine blocks) but it was more than that. This was a game both Baylor and Griner needed to win for its long-term confidence after losing to UConn twice over the past two years, including a one-point defeat at Connecticut early last season. Last November, Griner missed eight of 13 from the free throw line, including some key misses down the stretch that allowed UConn to rally for the 65-64 win. On this night, she delivered like an All-American center. Griner protected the rim on defense, cleaned up rebounds, and imposed her will in the post late on both ends. In crunch time, everything went through Griner, which is how Baylor must play to defeat the teams in its elite class. "She has developed a few more ways to score, which makes her harder to defend," said UConn coach Geno Auriemma afterward. "All you can do is hope she misses or hope they can't get her the ball." With the game tied at 54 with 5:29 left, Griner scored six of Baylor's next eight points to put the Lady Bears in a position to win. She hit all seven of her free throws, including six in a game-ending 27-11 run. It was a money performance.
2. This was a good loss for UConn. The Huskies entered the game having defeated opponents by 41.5 points a game, including a 30-point win over defending national champion Texas A&M. But they needed a game against a Top 3 opponent to see exactly where they were. The verdict is they are better than Auriemma let on earlier in the preseason. This is a young team that showed no fear of being on the road against the biggest crowd (10,627) in the history of Baylor women's basketball. In fact, UConn outhustled and outplayed Baylor for the first 30 minutes, and Auriemma will remind his team for the next three months about blowing an 11-point lead to the nation's top-ranked team. (UConn had won its last 10 games it had played against opponents ranked in the Top 10 prior to Baylor). "This will help us for the rest of the season," UConn sophomore center Stefanie Dolson told the Hartford Courant. "We will take it for what it is and learn from the things we didn't do well."
The Huskies have a ton of skilled players on the perimeter and sophomore guard Bria Hartley is developing into a sensational big game shooter. She scored 25 points on 10 of 17 shooting against Baylor, including five 3-pointers. Opponents also better take advantage of freshman guard Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (15 points against Baylor) now because she's going to be a nightmare when she learns how to move without the ball better. It was great to see ESPN analysts Jeff Van Gundy and Doris Burke praise UConn junior guard Kelly Faris, the glue player for UConn, and one of the best on-ball defenders in college. Her defensive versatility is remarkable and gave Baylor All-America guard Odyssey Sims fits in the first half, one of the few defenders to bother one of the best scorers in the country. Against Stanford, the 5-9 Faris guarded forwards and guards. She's terrific.
3. Will anyone beat Baylor? This was the second time Baylor knocked off the second-ranked team this season after defeating then-second ranked Notre Dame, 94-81, in Waco on Nov. 20. The Lady Bears also have wins this season over then-No. 6 Tennessee and then-No. 22 UCLA. This is Baylor's best start since the 2001-02 season -- they also are in the midst of a 29-game home winning streak -- and the only team remaining on its schedule that poses serious danger is Texas A&M. They are unlikely to lose before the tournament. What would be a shame is if Baylor and UConn don't meet again in 2012-13. At the moment, the teams are not scheduled to meet next season because of other scheduling obligations, and one hopes the coaches are wise enough to figure out a way to add the game. Women's basketball needs more nights like it had on Sunday.