Stanford stifles Griner, but Baylor keeps its perfect season alive
DENVER -- Brittney Griner didn't dunk on Sunday night.
She didn't have a remarkable semifinal game, frustrated and limited by Stanford's relentless double teams and her teammates' own puzzling decisions not to work the ball to her. The Cardinal held Griner to 13 points, her second lowest output of the season, and just three made field goals, tying her season low.
But Griner's Baylor Lady Bears are in the national championship game. And in the 59-47 win
And the biggest barrier might be between her opponents' ears.
"I think we were too worried about her," said Nneka Ogwumike, whose Stanford career ended with a 22-point night. "In reality attacking her wasn't as hard as we thought it would be."
Ogwumike wasn't disrespecting Griner's immense talents or ability to change the game on both ends of the court. She was just acknowledging her own psychological issues with facing the biggest -- on so many levels -- player in the game.
"I was definitely psyching myself out," she said. "In the second half I just started attacking. I was like, okay, this isn't that bad. I think I did a really good job of not being scared of going in there."
By being brave, Ogwumike scored 15 second-half points. But it wasn't enough. The Bears have reached the game they've been pointing toward all season. Sunday's victory was Baylor's 39th of the season and the Bears quest to win more games (40) than any other team in history and finish the season undefeated continues on Tuesday, against Notre Dame. The victory had Robert Griffin III dancing in the stands with the Baylor band.
Baylor is such a good team, that it didn't need Griner to be the headliner.
"We're not the Brittney Griner show," said coach Kim Mulkey said. "Brittney Griner is the face of women's basketball and she deserves to be. But this team is bigger than Brittney."
When asked last week how to deal with Griner, Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said, "I'll think of something." She did -- double teaming Griner with one Ogwumike sister and another coming off of either Jordan Madden or Terran Condry.
"I thought it was a good gamble," VanDerveer said.
But Condry made Stanford pay, coming off the bench to score 13 points, including a lay-up with 8:24 to play that gave Baylor a 12-point lead.
While Stanford effectively limited Griner's offensive output, they could never get their own offensive game rolling. Much of that was Griner's enormous presence in the paint, changing shots. But some of it was an inability to knock down wide-open looks. Stanford shot 2-of-17 from the three-point line.
VanDerveer was also clearly frustrated by the officiating. Chiney Ogwumike fouled out with 7:39 to play -- the first time all season a Stanford player has fouled out of a game. VanDerveer had sat courtside through the Notre-Dame UConn game and witnessed the physical play in the early match.
"The game before ours was extremely physical and this game was just the opposite to me," VanDerveer said. "The main thing was we sent them to the free-throw line."
That was the biggest disparity in a mostly even box score: Stanford made five of seven free throws, Baylor made 19 of 26 free throws. Surprisingly, Stanford blocked more shots than Baylor: five to two.
When Chiney Ogwumike fouled out, an era ended at Stanford of dominating sister play. Chiney will carry on, while Nneka ends her Stanford season falling short once again of her ultimate goal.
It was Stanford's fifth straight turn as a bridesmaid. The Cardinal has lost in the Final Four semifinals three times and in the final twice since 2008, and hasn't won a national title since 1992. Sunday's loss was only the second of the year for Stanford.
But as so many opponents have learned since Baylor's last loss -- in the 2011 regional final to eventual champion Texas A&M -- Baylor is a talented and hungry team.
And they have a player who changes the game, even if she doesn't show up big in the box score.
"In the women's game, we haven't seen the likes of Brittney Griner before," Kim Mulkey said. "We've seen 6-8 and 6-9 players. We've seen players that dunk it. But her presence on the defensive end -- I've been around this game since I was 18 years old, and I've never seen anybody dominate on the defensive end."
It's enough to psych out any player, even the second-best player in the country. Now it's Notre Dame's turn to get psyched.