NCAA Women's Basketball Championship: Baylor Goes Undefeated, Griner Shines
Road to the Championship
After last season’s disappointing finish, the Lady Bears entered the 2012 NCAA Tournament as a No. 1 seed with a perfect record of 34-0. Last season, Baylor lost to the eventual champion Texas A&M Aggies in the Elite Eight. This season, anything short of a championship would surely be considered a disappointment for junior star Brittney Griner and company.
In the Round of 64, the Lady Bears more than doubled their opponents’ offensive output as they easily beat the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos, 81-40. Baylor then defeated Florida, Georgia Tech and No. 2 seed Tennessee, each by 15 points or more. It even bested the Stanford Cardinal by double digits in the Final Four although it only held a two-point lead at the half.
Last tournament, the Fighting Irish advanced all the way to the national championship game before falling to precisely the same Aggies that beat the Lady Bears two rounds earlier. Notre Dame won three of its five tournament games this season by 29 points or more. Not only did it soundly defeat No. 16 seed Liberty, but the Fighting Irish also beat No. 5 seed St. Bonaventure by 44 points and No. 2 seed Maryland by 31. Now that’s dominance!
Only the 39-0 Baylor Lady Bears stood in Notre Dame’s way. Something had to give. Which team would budge?
Baylor Controls Game
The Lady Bears held firm control throughout the championship contest. In fact, Notre Dame’s last lead of the game was 9-8. As soon as Baylor tied the game with a free throw, the Fighting Irish would never have a lead again. As the Lady Bears extended the lead to 16-9, Baylor offensive rebounds played a crucial role. Half of Baylor’s first 16 points came on possessions with at least one offensive rebound.
In the first half, as well as the beginning of the second half, Notre Dame stayed relatively close. The Fighting Irish were actually only down by six points at halftime. Early in the second half, Notre Dame clawed back to limit the deficit to a mere three points, 42-39, primarily due to the Fighting Irish’s ability to hold the Lady Bears to two points over a three-minute span. As soon as Irish pulled within three, the Bears answered back behind an Odyssey Sims three-pointer. Including the Sims three-pointer, Baylor ended the game on a 38-22 run.
Junior center Brittney Griner was easily the game’s Most Valuable Player. Griner, who stands 6-foot-8, grabbed 13 rebounds and blocked five shots. Much like Anthony Davis did in the men’s championship game, Griner affected many more opponents’ shots than will appear in the game’s box score. Offensively, Griner shot 8-9 from the field in the second half and powered her team to the championship with 26 huge points.
In a losing effort, junior guard Skylar Diggins single-handedly kept her team in the game until the final 10 minutes when the game began to spiral out of grasp for the Fighting Irish. Diggins finished with a team-high 20 points, but appeared extremely disappointed with a second consecutive finals loss for her squad.
In her final collegiate basketball game, Natalie Novosel played very poorly, especially by her high standards. The senior guard had been averaging 15.4 points per game this season, but could only managed to score five points tonight. To make matters worse, she did not convert a single field goal despite 11 attempts.
Devereaux's Foul Trouble Hurts Irish
Another Notre Dame senior struggled. It was Devereaux Peters. Despite easily leading the Fighting Irish in rebounding this season, Peters was only able to log 15 minutes due to foul trouble. She picked up three first-half fouls and was whistled for her fourth on an illegal screen with 15 minutes remaining in the game. The Fighting Irish clearly missed her presence, as they were outrebounded 46-27. Undoubtedly, Griner’s impact was felt on the glass, but if Peters was able to remain on the court for longer, the rebounding disparity may not have been so great.
Changing the Game
Griner appears to be one of those once-in-a-generation type players. Scouts, analysts and fans are all drooling over her potential…and rightly so. She is so dominant in all facets of the game, and for that reason it’s widely agreed that only injury can impede her progress. Although she has led her team to perfection (and a championship, too), Griner will be returning to school for her senior season.
With the win, the Baylor Lady Bears became the first team in Division 1 college basketball history to finish 40-0. Four other women’s teams have gone 39-0 including the Connecticut Huskies (three times) and the Tennessee Lady Volunteers. Former Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III was in attendance to witness the team’s historic 40th victory.
Griner will be back next season alongside sophomore guard Odyssey Sims. With that said, the Lady Bears will undoubtedly be next year’s favorite to win it all. Regardless, until Griner is dethroned as champ, it truly will remain Brittney Griner’s world. We're all just living in it.