• December 7, 2021

Dishin on the Finals: Brittney Griner leads Baylor to a perfect 40-0 season

By David Siegel and Sue Favor

Devereaux Peters and Baylor's Brittney Griner. Photo Robert Franklin, All Rights Reserved.
Devereaux Peters and Baylor's Brittney Griner. Photo Robert Franklin, All Rights Reserved.

So how do you adjust? Can you adjust?

You have already played your opponent, who comes into this game with a 39-0 record, and you were defeated 94-81. In that game, your two leading scorers poured in 28 and 27 points, respectively.

Oh, and by the way, the rematch is for the national championship.

That was the daunting task ahead of head coach Muffett McGraw and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Tuesday evening in Denver, Colorado as they readied to take on Kim Mulkey’s Lady Bears. In the end, they were not able to do enough, as Baylor pulled away in the second half behind Most Outstanding Player Brittney Griner, winning 80-61.

The matchup was a battle of two opposite styles facing off – the power game of Baylor led by Wade Trophy winner Griner versus the four-guard lineup of the Irish, led by All-American point guard Skylar Diggins.

Each shined in the first meeting, with Griner pouring in 32 points, and Diggins scoring 27 points. They were not alone, however, as Baylor point guard Odyssey Sims had 25 points and Notre Dame senior guard Natalie Novosel had 28 points.

Diggins felt disappointed in her performance during championship game and blamed herself for the loss.

“I was a bad leader tonight,” she said. “I could have done a better job of being a point guard facilitator; I could have run some things earlier to get Natalie [Novosel] going.”

Her coach however, cited the lack of help from other players.

“She’s just such a big-time player and she just didn’t get a lot of help today,” said McGraw. “But she did everything I thought she could possibly do.”

Notre Dame learned from the early success Stanford had playing off Jordan Madden and doubling Griner. However, the Irish did not have the same size as the Cardinal did, and Devereaux Peters, the Big East defensive player of the year, picked up an early foul defending Griner.

On the other end, while UConn chose to deny Diggins the ball with Bria Hartley shadowing her all over the court, Baylor chose to play straight up, with Sims, one of the best on ball defenders in the country covering her.

Both teams seemed understandably tight early, and at the 16-minute media timeout, the Irish had a 9-8 lead. Even with Peters on the bench with two early fouls, the Irish held Griner in check with team defense including help from Natalie Achonwa, the backup post who was not totally healthy the first time they played.

Baylor’s size and strength began to impact the game, as Griner attacked the boards on the defensive end. A four-possession trip ended with a Griner put back, followed by a Sims fast break layup, and it was a 16-9 Baylor lead at the 12-minute mark. The Lady Bears already had a 12-to-5 rebound advantage.

Methodically, Baylor extended the lead. They exchanged baskets two-for-one with the Irish, not letting Notre Dame get second chances.

With eight minutes to go in the half and the score 22-15, a visibly frustrated Diggins committed her second foul and was forced to take a seat. Sims hit the foul shots, Kimetria Hayden hit a three and the lead was up to twelve. Griner had eight points, five rebounds, and two blocks. McGraw was forced to bring back both Peters and Diggins so as to not lose touch with Baylor.

The Irish worked their motion offense beautifully with Peters back in the post, scoring a couple of quick baskets and getting it down to eight, before Peters let her emotions get the best of her. She committed a silly third foul and went back to the bench. Still, the Irish continued to battle. With three minutes to go Novosel, 0-5 shooting at that point, did what she does best: get to the foul line after drawing one on Griner. She made the two, and Notre Dame reduced the Baylor lead to six.

At the half, the Irish were within reach of the Lady Bears, 34-28. Griner was held to one point in the last eight minutes and the four Baylor guards were a combined 4-for-17 from the floor. Novosel was 0-for-7 from the floor.

McGraw tried to buy Peters some more bench time to start the second half but Baylor went inside for six points early in the half. With seventeen minutes left to go, Peters returned. She immediately scored on a put back to cut the lead to 40-35. Mulkey clearly told her team to go to Griner in the paint.

Baylor tried to pull away, but the Irish kept fighting back. Still, the Lady Bears led 42-37 with 11:25 to go.

After a timeout Baylor increased the defensive intensity and continued to look for Griner inside. A turnaround jumper made the lead ten points and Notre Dame called timeout. Diggins had 16 for the Irish but the most important number for Notre Dame might have been eight, the number of minutes Peters had played at that point.

Peters returned at 8:45 when Achonwa picked up her fourth foul as well, and Griner was 7-7 from the floor. Baylor promptly went outside to Sims for a three-pointer. Baylor was shooting 72 percent from the floor for the half. When Condrey hit back to back pull up jumpers in the lane, it was 73-50 and the Baylor rout was on.

Forty wins, zero losses. A first time in NCAA history. Griner was unstoppable in the second half, finishing with 26 points, 13 rebounds, and five blocks. Mulkey crowned Sims the best point guard in the country. The sophomore had a phenomenal game, controlling the pace of the game and only turning over the ball two times while scoring fifteen points.

Diggins tried to lead an improbable comeback, scoring 20 points, but seniors Brittany Mallory, Natalie Novosel and Devereaux Peters shot 4-for-19. With the graduation of those three, and the loss of assistant head coach Jonathan Tsipis to a head coaching position, it will be a different looking Irish team next season.

“You have to credit a team like Baylor – they know their roles to a T and play them to a T,” said Diggins of the Lady Bears. “And you’ve got a player like Brittney Griner who is so dominant. I thought they did a good job tonight of exploiting mismatches, playing off each other. “

Baylor players praised their coach for keeping them focused throughout the season.

“She did a great job all year keeping us motivated,” said Sims. “She would talk trash to us to keep us motivated, make us play harder. This entire year she’s been great. She’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever had. And toward the end of the season just going through what she’s going through now, she did an even better job. Made her coach harder than what she did and made us play harder and made us want it more. To win this national championship, we’re probably more happier for her than we are for ourselves right now.”

Baylor lived up to their year long quest to finished their “unfinished business” and at the buzzer the players became emotional.

“I was just hugging my teammates,” said Griner. “I had tears in my eyes. We finally did it. Unfinished business was over. And I was just ready to be with my team and hug them all.”

What is next for Baylor? Consider that Terran Condrey was the only senior that received substantial playing time this season. Griner, Sims, Williams – they will all be back. Is 80-0 possible? Tune in again next season.

Read Previous

Hoopfeed Daily Twitter Digest for 04-03-2012

Read Next

Championship postgame Q&A: Notre Dame’s Skylar Diggins and Devereaux Peters

One Comment

  • Good synopsis!! I actually enjoyed the game up until the last 8 minutes, Griner went off. I do think Sims is a good defensive Guard, but offensively, Diggins may have the edge by a half an inch. Im not the biggest Diggins fan, but shes pretty good. I never thought for 1 second that ND would beat Baylor, they dont have the athleticism. When I saw how ND failed to get a comfortable lead on UConn with Dolson out the first 10min of the 2nd half, I knew Baylor was going to punish them. When you play Baylor, you have to focus on the 4 other players on the Court, let Griner get her touches, its only right. UConn will be the team to beat Baylor next season

Comments are closed.