There may be just as many, if not more folks tuning into the Women’s “Final Four” as there will be for the men’s final games this weekend, thanks in large part to Baylor freshman star Brittney Griner.
It’s not very often we find more star-power coming from the women’s side of college basketball, but it’s even more uncommon to witness a woman with Griner’s talent. The 6-foot-8-inch freshman sensation made a game-winning shot to lead the No. 4 seed Baylor Lady Bears to a 51-48 win against the No. 2 seeded Duke Lady Blue Devils on March 29 during the “Elite 8” round. Her double-double of 15 points and 11 rebounds helped Baylor advance to its first “Final Four” appearance since winning the national title in 2005.
But Griner’s ability to help win games isn’t what’s made her name a staple in sports headlines— it’s her ability to completely dominate the hardwood court that has common sports fans so intrigued.
Griner, a native of Houston, recorded an outstanding nine blocks in Baylor’s win over Duke Monday night, giving her a new NCAA record of 36 total blocks during the NCAA Tournament. She had set a new NCAA record of most blocks in a single game earlier in the tournament when she recorded 14 blocks in the second round against Georgetown.
In the eyes of many basketball experts, she’s the most dominant defensive player to man the paint since NBA legend Bill Russell. But if you ask Griner, swatting balls into the nearest crowd should come natural for someone of his her stature.
“I think it’d be kind of funny, being 6-foot-8 and not having any blocks at all,” said Griner, who fits an 18 in men’s shoe size and has a wingspan that extends 86 inches long, in a post-game statement. “It’s kind of second nature. I just see the shot, go up there and try to grab it or throw it out of bounds.”
Griner’s unique physical ability gives her an advantage on offense, too. It didn’t surprise many when she became the seventh woman in NCAA history to dunk during a basketball game, joining the likes of former college star Candace Parker, who still remains the only woman to dunk during the NCAA Tournament (did so twice in ’05). But even Parker would admit she can’t dunk like the Baylor freshman. It’s become a tradition for some Baylor fans to rush to games early to watch Griner during warm-ups as she puts on a dunking display, jamming down one-hand dunks, two-hand slams, and 360 rim-rattlers.
But it wasn’t long ago that Griner’s physical advantage put her in a negative light. Griner was ejected from a game earlier in March after punching Texas Tech player Jordan Barncastle in the face, breaking her nose. Griner’s punch came after the two got tangled up on a hard foul called against Barncastle. Griner expressed an apology, served a two-game suspension, and returned just in time for the NCAA Tournament.
She used her physical talent uniquely again on Monday night when she joined 6-foot-2-inch teammate Mariah Chandler to hoist their coach up to cut down the basketball nets in celebration of their “Final Four” appearance.
“I never had players tall enough to lift me to cut the nets, so that’s a first,” said Baylor coach Kim Mulkey.
With a talent like Griner, there may be many more first-time achievements to come.