Bears to meet Irish for NCAA title
DENVER — One victory from perfection.
Brittney Griner was constantly hounded and double-teamed, scoring only one basket in the second half Sunday night. So the Baylor supporting cast jumped in and carried the unbeaten Bears to the national championship game.
Griner finished with 13 points and nine rebounds to lead Baylor to a 59-47 victory over Stanford and into the women’s NCAA final against Notre Dame.
“We’re not the Brittney Griner show,” Bears coach Kim Mulkey said. “Brittney Griner is the face of women’s basketball, and she deserves to be, but this team is bigger than Brittney. She will tell you that. Brittney Griner double- and triple-teamed allows other players on her team to have opportunities.”
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Baylor (39-0) is one victory from becoming the seventh women’s team to finish undefeated and has a chance at being the first squad in NCAA history to win 40 games in a season.
The top-seeded Bears will face another No. 1 seed and a familiar foe Tuesday night for the title. The Irish beat Connecticut 83-75 in an overtime thriller in the first semifinal.
Baylor and Notre Dame met in the preseason WNIT final, with the Bears winning in Waco 94-81 on Nov. 17.
“It’s going to be a good game,” Griner said. “We beat them earlier in the season, but we’ve got to erase that. This is the game everybody wants.”
Stanford (35-2) fell short in the Final Four for the fifth consecutive season, ending its school-record 32-game winning streak.
The Cardinal refused to let the 6-foot-8 Griner to win it alone, collapsing on her in the paint. The strategy worked for the first 20 minutes before the other Bears started making shots.
And those players took advantage of their chances.
Trailing 31-29 early in the second half, the Bears went on an 11-1 run sparked by Jordan Madden. The junior guard had an acrobatic three-point play and then a layup that made it 40-32. Griner followed with her only basket of the half, hitting a tough baseline turnaround that capped the burst.
The Cardinal could close to only six points the rest of the game despite Nnemkadi Ogwumike’s best efforts. The senior led the Cardinal with 22 points and nine rebounds. Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer took her out with a half-minute left and gave her a long embrace.
“No one feels good after a loss, especially if it’s in the Final Four,” Ogwumike said.
The 6-foot-2 forward, who will most likely be the top choice in the WNBA draft, did all she could to keep the Cardinal in the game, but got little help. Her younger sister, Chiney, who had such a strong sophomore season, was ineffective. She fouled out midway through the second half with just four points.
Baylor has been focused with the mantra of “Unfinished Business” all season long. Every player on the team is wearing a wristband with those two words on it. Mulkey said the team used the same motto the year it won its only title in 2005. The Bears had been knocked out the year before in a last-second defeat.
Stanford could easily claim that motto for itself, having matched UConn and Louisiana State with its five-year Final Four run. But like the Tigers, the Cardinal couldn’t win a title during its streak. Stanford hasn’t won a national championship since 1992.
“We were really well prepared and had a great game plan. We just struggled offensively and missed shots that would have helped us,” Stanford guard Toni Kokenis said. “Their offensive boards kind of hurt us. We needed to box out better.”
Stanford hit just two of its 17 attempts from three-point range.
“We wanted to run on them, but we didn’t get out and go as well as we wanted to,” VanDerveer said. “They make things hard, they take you out of your normal thing. It took us that long to get the floor organized. We had some nice open looks and didn’t knock down shots.”
Percentages: FG .333, FT .714. Three-point goals: 2-17, .118 (Samuelson 1-3, Kokenis 1-3, Orrange 0-1, La Rocque 0-2, Tinkle 0-3, N. Ogwumike 0-5). Team rebounds: 2. Blocked shots: 5 (Tinkle 2, Samuelson, C. Ogwumike, N. Ogwumike). Turnovers: 8 (N. Ogwumike 2, Kokenis 2, Orrange, Samuelson, La Rocque, C. Ogwumike). Steals: 3 (C. Ogwumike 2, Tinkle). Technical fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .365, FT .731. Three-point goals: 2-8, .250 (Sims 1-2, Condrey 1-3, Hayden 0-1, Madden 0-2). Team rebounds: 9. Blocked shots: 2 (Griner 2). Turnovers: 7 (Williams 2, Griner 2, Hayden, Madden). Steals: 4 (Sims 2, Williams, Hayden). Technical fouls: None.
Attendance: 19,028. Officials: Lisa Mattingly, Michael Price, Felicia Grinter.