By Wendell Barnhouse | email@example.com
KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Moments after the buzzer sounded, the Municipal Auditorium court was being set up for the championship celebration. Center court was cordoned off with a portable barrier - think airport security lines - that was about three feet high.
The barrier was between Baylor's Brittney Griner and an FSN interview with announcer Debbie Antonelli. Most humans would have walked around or ducked under the strap between the stanchions. Griner stepped over it.
And there, dear readers, is your analogy.
The top-seeded Lady Bears committed 22 turnovers, missed two key free throws down the stretch, had their freshman point guard in foul trouble and missing shots. No. 2 seed Texas A&M was poised to grab the trophy for the second consecutive year.
Griner made sure that didn't happen. The 6-8 sophomore scored 20 consecutive points and finished with 31, a record for the Big 12 Championship game. She also played 40 minutes, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked seven shots (a championship game record). Her contributions made the difference in Baylor's 61-68 victory over the second-seeded Aggies in the Phillips 66 Big 12 Women's Championship game.
The Aggies (27-5) jumped to a 12-0 lead - the largest deficit Baylor has faced this season - in the first five minutes but the Lady Bears understood it was a 40-minute game. And they had The Equalizer.
"We had a slow start and one thing led to another," said Baylor (31-2) senior Melissa Jones who contributed four game-changing plays in the final minutes. "After some time, it was all right, it's time to kick it into gear."
That would be Griner Gear. Starting with her first basket that came at the 14:26 mark of the first half, she scored 20 consecutive points for the Lady Bears. Griner, who was named the most outstanding player, had no idea that she was her team's offense for about 22 minutes.
"I knew I was scoring," she said. "I was just trying to help my team out. They trust me in getting me the ball. I was just posting up stronger, trying to get it deeper and getting up shots."
With about three minutes left in the first half, she found herself deep under the offensive board. Griner flipped the ball back over her right shoulder for a how-did-she-do-that? two points.
"I don't know what to say on that," she said. "I just saw the backboard and I knew where to go, so I was just trying to get it in there and roll it in.
Texas A&M coach Gary Blair used Danielle Adams, Adaora Elonu and Karla Gilbert to guard Griner with Adams getting most of the work. Maybe that's a reason why the Big 12's leading scorer was limited to 12 points.
"I was missing easy shots and I made the hard ones," said Adams, who missed 15 of 19 attempts. She opened the second half by missing five of six.
Baylor coach Kim Mulkey who was not happy with who was select to the all-tournament team, made a point regarding Adams' limited scoring. "Credit Destiny Williams who didn't make all-tournament," Mulkey said.
Williams led Baylor with 11 rebounds. The Lady Bears had a 50-36 rebounding edge.
"We didn't make the commit to defensive rebound with five people," Blair said. "We've done that all year."
Griner's final points came on a three-point play with 8:28 remaining that gave Baylor a 53-49 lead. The Aggies could never close that gap to less than three.
Jones, still playing with limited vision in her right eye, made four key plays over the last 2:17. She was unyielding in guarding a Sydney Carter drive, got an offensive rebound that led to Destiny Williams scoring to make it 61-56, blocked a Carter jumper, then grabbed an offensive rebound on a missed free throw that allowed Baylor to kill 20 seconds.
"The game boiled down to players making plays," Mulkey said. "In football you call it smash mouth football; in basketball, you just call it tough, grit it out, get in there and make a play."
Sims missed the front end of a one-and-one with 1:18 left (Jones got the rebound) and then Williams followed with a free throw miss with 14 seconds left and Baylor leading 61-58.
"We had no set play," Blair said. "I couldn't believe she missed the free throw and couldn't believe Melissa Jones didn't get the rebound."
Adams had a chance to tie but her 23-foot 3-pointer found iron not net. It was Texas A&M's 13th miss on 14 3-point attempts.
"I thought it was going in when it left my hand," she said. "It looked good when I put it up."
The Aggies missed 14 of their last 17 shots and finished 21-of-72 from the field (29.2 percent).
"You got to see some serious defense on both ends of the floor," Mulkey said. "What a great preparation for the NCAA Tournament. It has to help both of us as we head into the NCAA Tournament."
Baylor has won the Big 12's regular-season and postseason titles. The last time the Lady Bears accomplished that was 2005, the year they won the national championship. That Final Four was in Indianapolis; conveniently, that's the site of this year's event.