By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
WACO, Texas – Kim Mulkey got a phone call a few days ago. Someone wanted to attend Baylor’s second-round NCAA Tournament game Tuesday night. You don’t say no to a former president of the United States.
With former George W. Bush and his wife Laura just behind the Lady Bears’ bench, Brittney Griner put on a farewell show. She had 50 points on Senior Night against Kansas State on March 9 but against No. 8 seed Florida State Griner put on another show stopping performance.
The 6-8 senior had 33 points, 22 rebounds, four blocked shots and four assists as top-seeded Baylor cruised to an 85-47 victory over the Seminoles. She also did something she had never done before.
“Tonight felt like Senior Night, but tonight was better,” Griner said. “The three dunks. … We took advantage of it and gave our crowd a good game.”
Yes. Three dunks. She now has 18 in her career. The rest of women’s college basketball has 18.
The first came with 4:05 left in the first half when she beat nine players down the floor, caught a half-court pass from freshman Niya Johnson. Her last two baskets were dunks on back-to-back shots with just over six minutes remaining.
As Baylor heads to the semifinal of the Oklahoma City Regional to face Louisville Sunday, Griner is playing the best basketball of a historic career. Over her last seven games, she is averaging 32 points.
When she left the Ferrell Center court with 9,652 screaming for her, Griner stopped and Lady Bear hugged Mulkey, lifting the coach off the floor.
“I’ve gotten a few of those from Brittney and you just hope she doesn’t squeeze the air out of you,” said Mulkey, whose team is four victories from consecutive national championships. “Tonight this team accepted the challenge. Florida State averages 76 points per game. We average 81.”
The unsaid message: If the averages hold, it’s a ball game. But during The Griner Era, the Ferrell Center is where opponents’ dreams come to die. Florida State fell behind 25-8 but then pulled within 27-14 with 8:11 to play. The Seminoles were thinking, “Hey, why not us?”
Over the next 12 minutes, through halftime and into the second half, Baylor eviscerated Florida State with a 36-6 blitz. The Lady Bears’ counter punched out the Seminoles by making 15 of 24 shots. During that run, Florida State missed 13 of 21 attempts.
“I thought we were really focused from the start,” said Brooklyn Pope, who scored all 12 of her points in the first half. “We were excited to play a new team. It was exciting to prove a point that this is how we play in the Big 12.”
With the outcome not in doubt, the second half was about Griner stuffing the stat sheet and the basketball. She had a steal that could have become a breakaway dunk but Griner was comically fouled by 5-2 Yashira Delgado.
During one stretch of the second half, Baylor turned it over on five of eight possessions; and the mistakes were careless. Not that the outcome was in doubt, but Griner was alone on the offensive after Florida State failed to convert a Baylor bad pass but Pope overthrew Griner. The pass would have been tough to catch someone seven feet, eight inches tall.
“She should have had four dunks,” Pope said, with Mulkey laughing. “I was stronger than I thought on that pass.”
President Bush visited both locker rooms. He remarked to Mulkey that the Lady Bears appeared focused on the task(s) at hand.
“Even when he was talking to them, I noticed they seemed to be thinking, ‘We’ve got a game to go win,’” Mulkey said. “I wasn’t happy with our shoot around today. Odyssey (Sims) texted me and said, ‘Don’t worry, coach. We got this.’
“It's a great memory, meeting President Bush. Other than this year’s freshmen, these players have met two Presidents. That’s pretty special.”
If Griner and her teammates keep playing like this, they’ll be back at the White House to meet President Obama (who picked Baylor to beat Notre Dame in the title game for the second consecutive year).
“It was great seeing President Bush outside of the History Channel,” said team comedian Pope. “He looks really stressed out on the documentary. At the game, he looked real pleasant, eating popcorn. It was good seeing him.”