Baylor's Brittney Griner undisputed star of women's Elite Eight
We're down to eight teams -- approximately 120 players fighting for a championship. The usual names are still in play: UConn, Stanford, Tennessee.
But it's still all about just one woman: Brittney Griner.
Griner made sure of that when she dunked, not once but twice, on the road to the Elite Eight. The 6-foot-8 All-American dunked against Florida and then for good measure she slammed down a two-handed jam against Georgia Tech.
Maybe she got sick of reading about the brooms and kayak paddles and the super-tall male cheerleaders who simulate her while teams prepare to face the biggest game-changer in women's basketball.
Hey, she seemed to be saying, can a kayak paddle do this?
"Even though she dunks in warmups all the time, in the game it's just something that gets us fired up and really excited," Griner's teammate Odyssey Sims said. "I think we get more excited for her than she does for herself."
Baylor is on a 37-0 roll thanks to Griner, a player that no opponent has solved- no matter how many brooms or paddles they bring to practice. Griner is a far more complete player than she was just a year ago when her Baylor Bears were bounced by Texas A&M in the Elite Eight. She's light years from the kid who got Baylor to the Final Four in San Antonio in 2010, where the Bears were blown out by Connecticut.
Monday night Griner's team will play Tennessee in Des Moines in a fascinating matchup in the context of women's basketball history. The Lady Vols have eight losses this year and often seem a little lost. It's no wonder -- there's an emotional toll in playing for Tennessee right now that no other team carries, in a season marked by Pat Summitt's disclosure of her battle with early onset Alzheimer's disease. There is speculation that, with a loss, this could be Summitt's last game as a head coach.
In every region, chalk reigned supreme: the top two seeds advanced to the regional final. In Monday's other matchup, Stanford must get past Duke to reach its fifth straight Final Four. In the past four years, the Cardinal has lost in the championship game twice and lost in the semifinals twice, including last year to eventual champion Texas A&M. Senior Nneka Ogwumike -- who would likely be the frontrunner for Player of the Year honors if it wasn't for Griner -- has never had her season end before the Final Four and seems determined to get there again this year. She scored 39 points on Saturday against South Carolina.
In the non-Griner side of the bracket, Maryland -- which knocked off defending champion Texas A&M -- will take on last year's runner up Notre Dame. The Terrapins -- who rallied from 18 points down in the first half on Sunday -- are trying to get to their first Final Four since their 2006 championship season. Notre Dame is riding point guard Skylar Diggins.
UConn will take on Kentucky, with an interesting plot twist. Samarie Walker, Kentucky's best post player, played for UConn for one semester, but was unhappy and homesick and transferred a year ago. If both top seeds prevail UConn and Notre Dame will meet for the fourth time this season. Notre Dame defeated the Huskies twice in the regular season before losing to UConn in the Big East Conference final earlier this month.
There are plenty of subplots and storylines in the Elite Eight but they all take a back seat to Griner.
This is her tournament.