By C. Coward
WACO, Texas â€“ With the electric atmosphere of a sellout crowd cheering them on and Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III in the audience, No. 1 Baylor (11-0) rallied from a six-point halftime deficit to defeat No. 2 Connecticut (9-1), 66-61, in front of 10,627 rowdy fans Sunday night.
Both teams came into the contest undefeated and with an early season history of beating opponents by double digits. Yet despite leading by as much as 11 points in the second half, UConn failed to keep Baylor point guard Odyssey Sims and center Brittney Griner from taking over the game on a 9-0 run in the middle of the second half to get the Lady Bears within one and eventually tie the game at the 5:30 mark.
UConn managed to take the lead again twice, first by a three-point margin and then by one but Terran Condrey nailed a three-point shot at 4:30 to give Baylor a two-point lead, 58-56. The Lady Bears led for the rest of the game.
The trey by Condrey was key in changing the momentum of the game. But her original intention was to get the ball into the hands of Griner.
â€œWell she wanted to get it into Griner, who was relocating in there and trying to get deeper and deeper,â€ said Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey. â€œShe just saw an opportunity where her defender gave her an open look. If it goes in, you pat her on the back and if it doesnâ€™t you go â€˜why didnâ€™t you get it to Griner?â€™ But with Terran, you have confidence in her shooting.â€
Condrey did not think the shot was good when she released it.
â€œWhen I shot it I thought it was short,â€ she said. â€œI didnâ€™t think I jumped high enough to shoot it, but I am happy it went in.â€
Griner finished the game with 25 points, nine rebounds and nine blocks. She entered the game just five blocks shy of breaking the Big 12 all-time career-block record held by former Oklahoma player Courtney Paris at 446.
â€œIt’s probably my most favorite award,â€ said Griner of the accomplishment and reaching 451 career blocks. â€œShot blocking is one thing I love the most. To me that’s better than dunks or anything like that. I definitely appreciate this one.â€
Before Griner began playing basketball in high school, she played volleyball where she honed her spike-like shot-blocking skills.
Odyssey Sims was the only other Baylor player to finish the game in double digits with 23 points. She also had four rebounds and four steals. Nine of her points came from three-point shots and she was perfect from the free throw line (6-6).
Griner also had a perfect free throw record (7-7).
â€œThat was actually the first thing I looked at when I looked at the stat sheet,â€ said Griner. â€œI just knew that I had to knock them down and I just stayed calm and did everything I needed to do to get it going.â€
For UConn, Bria Hartley led her team with 25 points. Kalenda Mosqueda-Lewis finished with 15 points and Tiffany Hayes had 10 plus five rebounds.
UConn Accentuates the Positives
While UConn was deeply disappointed with the loss, head coach Geno Auriemma was upbeat about his teamâ€™s performance during the postgame press conference.
â€œWe did a lot of things, we got more shots and we held our own on the rebounding end,â€ said Auriemma. â€œWe forced more turnovers.â€
While not winning still stung, he indicated the game helped his team realize what they need to work on when they get back into the gym.
â€œSo the only thing I think we are not leaving here with is a win which really bothers us because we play to win,â€ said Auriemma. â€œI think in a lot of other ways we leave here with a pretty good understanding of where we need to be as a teamâ€¦. I think if we had played really poorly and got beat handedly, we wouldâ€™ve left demoralized. Maybe weâ€™re not that good, but we can get on the plane tomorrow and know we have a pretty good team.â€
UConn center Stefanie Dolson also talked about what her team can take away from the loss.
â€œThis game is really going to help us individually and as a team,â€ she said. â€œWhen things arenâ€™t going our way, someoneâ€™s got to step up and tell everyone what to do get a basket or get a stop to change the momentum. This is really going to help us in the future by letting us know what we need to do to keep going and score.â€
The Future of the Series
Sunday nightâ€™s game was only the third time that the two teams have played against each other. The series now stands at 2-1 with Baylor getting its first victory over UConn. Both coaches talked about the future of extending the series with Mulkey explaining scheduling difficulties in terms of television contracts and league obligations.
â€œTV dictates money in our sport now and in all sports,â€ said Mulkey. â€œTV dictates what the NCAA does. Money dictates it all. I have a problem once January gets here. My focus is not non-conference anymore, my focus and my concern is for Baylor University and for us to win a Big 12 championship. TV wants you to get these games in January once football is over with. Some coaches think that it is good. I donâ€™t ever want a non-conference game to be more important than a conference game. If you do games in January, which is what they want us to continue to do, I just donâ€™t want to do that.â€
UConn remains on the road and faces the College of Charleston on December 21. Baylor stays at home to host McNeese State on the same day. While UConn already started Big East Conference play (they defeated Seton Hall on December 9), Baylor begins its Big 12 Conference schedule January 4 at home against Missouri.
WNBA head coaches in attendance at the game included the Seattle Storm’s Brian Agler and Dan Hughes of the San Antonio Silver Stars.
What They Said
Kim Mulkey on the game
â€œWell I thought we were all making plays. Maybe not always on the offensive end, but I thought kids were fighting hard. I just thought that Terran (Condrey)â€™s big shot, Odyssey (Sims) hit some threes and I thought getting to the foul line was important. I thought it was very important not to give up many layups. I think we gave up only one, maybe two back door cuts for layups and we gave up a couple transition layups. You canâ€™t give them threes and transition layups. We did a better job, I thought, of not giving them layups. They shot the ball outstanding from the three, complement them. But they only made on three in the last 10 minutes of the game. We hung in there defensively and we battled.â€
Geno Auriemma on defending Brittney Griner
â€œThe obvious answer is sheâ€™s a lot bigger than any other kid sheâ€™s going be playing against, but sheâ€™s developed a bit of aggressiveness and a few more ways to score than she has in the past. That has made it really difficult to defend her. The only thing that you can do is hope that she misses or hope that they donâ€™t get her the ball enough times. The key to the game that we said going in to this was that Odyssey Sims is going to decide this game, and she did. Brittneyâ€™s going to get what Brittneyâ€™s going to get every night. It was a typical Brittney game. We may have helped her by giving her a couple of extra blocked shots that she shouldnâ€™t have, but other than that itâ€™s generally what youâ€™re going to get from her. I think it was some of Odyssey Simsâ€™s plays at the end of the game that made a difference.â€
Auriemma on receiving an ovation from the Baylor crowd
“Yeah, it’s like being at a Big East road game. They say people down South are a lot nicer. They proved it. I gotta tell you, it really took me by surprise, the reception that I got when I walked in the gym. I didn’t know if they just do that to everybody when they think they’re going to kick their butt. But it’s a great environment to play basketball in.”