• December 8, 2021

Was media criticism of Brittney Griner’s duo of dunks unfair?

With not even half of her first college season under her belt, Baylor freshman Brittney Griner is in the record books for multiple feats. One of the most recent includes last Saturday night’s duo of dunks in a blowout game against Texas State. It was only the second time in the history of women’s basketball that a player dunked twice. Griner’s partner in that record: WNBA star Candace Parker.

Excitement about the dunks not only energized the crowd that night, but sparked a bevy of tweets on Twitter.com, multiple postings of the video footage across the Web and several appearances in highlight reels on sports shows including ESPN’s SportsCenter and PTI. However, the humble, soft-spoken and exceedingly polite phenom and her coach garnered scorn from a few female members of the media.

Michelle Smith wrote in an article titled “Griner’s dunks embarrassing footnote to Baylor’s mismatch blowout” on Fanhouse.com:

It should be a moment to be admired, to be appreciated and highlighted. But the score keeps getting in the way.

Mechelle Voepel wrote in her blog in a “Gross Scores” segment:

Watching the highlights of that game just made me uncomfortable. It’s not any fun at all to see players get humiliated. I wish that game had never happened, frankly.

And Alysa Auriemma, daughter of UConn coach Geno Auriemma, tweeted about the dunks and blogged about the game:

also, I find what baylor did to TSU kind of appalling. you don’t dunk twice on a team you’re beating by 80, brittany griner/kim mulkey

(When Griner first dunked, Baylor was up by 44 not 80.)

Unfortunately, none of those writers were actually at the game to see what really happened.

To put things in perspective, outside of a box score, here is some insight into what occurred at the game:

  1. The obvious truths: Texas State (4-7) was overmatched. Baylor is an excellent team. TSU missed wide open shot opportunities time after time. It took them nine minutes to get a basket and by that time, the Waco crowd was restless and actually rooting for the visiting Bobcats. When TSU finally made a shot, the crowd clapped and cheered. At halftime, the Bobcats had only five points on 2 for 32 shooting.In many ways, TSU beat itself. Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey expects her team to play an entire game and her reserves did much of the work. Griner played a grand total of 23 minutes. No starter played over 24 minutes. The nine reserves each played at least 10 minutes (with an average of 14 minutes). Baylor could have easily scored well over 100 points but they did not. There is only so much you can hold back when a weaker team just cannot, even in the most favorable situations, make a shot. It was painful to see TSU squander the chances they earned to increase their points. Other scores around the NCAA Division I that night:
    UConn vs. Seton Hall, 91-24
    Texas vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 114-53
    North Carolina vs. Winston-Salem State, 101-38
  2. Late in the first half, TSU’s starting point guard Victoria Davis went down with a sprained ankle. The crowd went quiet and there was a palpable sigh of relief when she got up and hobbled off the court with the help of trainers. She was the most energetic player on her team and would be better served by being surrounded by teammates who play just as hard as she does. She was TSU’s only hope. During halftime, she sat in the hallway next to the visiting locker room, icing her ankle and on the verge of tears.
  3. Now on to those dunks. After halftime, the crowd of 6,669, while still pumped up for their Lady Bears, was subdued. That is until Griner started dunking in the warm-up period. She did it five times. But even after that performance, the audience still seemed caught off guard by the first dunk, a two-handed jam. As Mulkey said, “it woke everybody up. “I’m sure it’ll be on SportsCenter.” And it was. Just 24 seconds into the half, Griner trailed junior Melissa Jones from a fast break, caught a no-look pass and dunked.“I was looking for it just in case,” said Griner, who finished with 26 points on 11-of-12 shooting. “[Jones] had thrown it to me once before, and I wasn’t ready. That’s why I was trailing, to let her know I was coming.”Kim Mulkey did not, in that game, or any other, set specific plays for Griner to dunk. Smith wrote: “They came on plays run specifically to give her the opportunity to dunk.”

    However, a day or two later (and it seems after vociferous comments from pro-Baylor fans commenting on the article), that line was deleted from the article.

  4. Texas State did not have to schedule a game with Baylor. They did. Got paid. Got whipped and headed back down I-35 South to San Marcos. Furthermore, their score in a loss on the road against Texas Tech (12-2) on December 2: 75-71. In that game the Bobcats outshot Tech from the field, 54.5 percent to 43.5 percent.

Baylor flat-out played an excellent game. According to Mulkey, they had really good practices leading up to Saturday night and were ready to take on anyone.

“I told the players this—we would have beaten a lot of teams tonight,” said Mulkey. “I was very proud of our focus and concentration….I don’t care who we would have played tonight—this basketball team was ready to play. They’re going to have to do that these next 16 games, because it’s going to take that kind of effort.”

They were not paying attention to the scoreboard she said and the reserves were focusing on the game plan.

“We didn’t look up at the score,” said freshman guard Kimetria “Nae-Nae” Hayden. “Coach always wants me to play defense to get better and get ready for the 16 games we’re about to play. So that’s all I was thinking about, was defense.”

Why the harsh criticism of a female player who is a game-changer with an astonishing record of improvement over the course of 14 games? Why the questioning of Mulkey’s judgment when a readily available video (and even the play-by-play sheet) showed a more accurate picture than a mere box score? Phrases like “uncomfortable mismatch” have a tinge of anti-competitiveness. Mulkey expects her players to work hard an entire game. Griner is a freshman who has played just fourteen games. Fourteen. She needs to be in the game to get experience. Even so, she only played for about half of the match. Do men apologize for demolishing opponents? College basketball is not made up of charity competitions. It is made up of teams who want to win and hopefully get better. As Brice Cherry wrote in the Waco Tribune-Herald “the season of giving is over.”

With the win, Baylor just missed out on the NCAA Division I records for fewest points allowed in a half and game. And ever the competitor, Mulkey said she wanted to break those records.

In 10 seasons under Mulkey, Baylor is 249-67 (.788), which ranks her No. 4 nationally in winning percentage. She is in the throes of building a dynasty at Baylor—the current team is young with just one senior, starting forward Morghan Medlock.

“I’ve said it, and I’ll say it again, if you haven’t come to see this basketball team play,” said Mulkey after the TSU game, “you need to come.”

Next year the team will be even more impressive with the addition of Odyssey Sims from nearby Irving, the nation’s top high school point guard and Brooklyn Pope, a transfer from Rutgers.

Baylor begins Big 12 play on the road is against Oklahoma State this weekend. The team left Waco Friday and will face the Cowgirls in Stillwater, Oklahoma on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. CT.

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2 Comments

  • I've been thinking about all the blowouts this year (never mind the Brittney's dunks). Your reason #4, I concluded, is a major reason why I don't criticize the better team for showing how much better they are. The weaker team knows what it's getting into. I just wish fans and journalists would be honest enough to acknowledge that just because you have the game on your schedule it doesn't mean you are in the other team's league. Honestly, I'd rather these games not be scheduled as anything other than what they really are: a scrimmage.

    As for Brittney dunking during a blowout…. So? It's two points. Criticize her if she goes out and starts lobbing up 3s. Besides, scrimmages are meant for players to improve their skills without concern for the score.

  • I know GENO's daughter isn't trying to talk…so Maya Moore taking a 3 with 2 minutes left when they are up by 40 is OK…hmmm if Maya had a dunk opportunity she would have flushed it too! Child please.

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