Memphis, Tenn, Freshman sensation Brittney Griner has grown up a lot this season — just ask Tennessee.
Griner scored 27 points and blocked 10 shots, leading fourth-seeded Baylor to a 77-62 victory over the top-seeded Lady Vols on Saturday to advance to the NCAA Tournament regional finals.
“She was the X factor,” said Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, whose team was taken out in the first round last season.
Baylor’s only other appearance in the round of eight was in 2005, the same year it won the national championship. The Lady Bears (26-9) will face No. 2 seed Duke on Monday night.
The Lady Vols’ loss spoiled the highly anticipated matchup between Tennessee and Connecticut, which could have happened in this year’s national semifinals. The Lady Vols, who lost in the first round last season, haven’t missed out on back-to-back Final Fours since 1993-94.
Tennessee (32-3) successfully limited the 6-foot-8 Griner in its 74-65 victory over Baylor in the first game of the season but couldn’t do it again even with as many as four players on her at a time. Griner hit several shots while double-teamed or passed to an open Lady Bears teammate for an easy layup.
“You’re watching a phenom out here play above the rim,” Mulkey said. “That’s what needs to be written in every article from this day forward, because she’s such a sweet child as you can see.”
Griner had been somewhat tentative on offense since she was suspended for two games after throwing a punch against a Texas Tech player in early March. She was back to her dominant self on both ends of the court.
“I just knew I had to come out and play my game and go back to the old Brittney,” Griner said.
Griner’s 26 blocks in the NCAA Tournament ranks her second in history. Duke’s Alison Bales holds the NCAA Tournament record with 30 in 2006, and Connecticut’s Rebecca Lobo’s 22 now ranks third.
The Lady Vols managed to hit only 32.9 percent, only slightly better than their season-worst 32.8 percent against Stanford, and finished with 22 paint points. The Lady Vols allowed the Lady Bears 49.1 percent shooting — a season high for a Tennessee opponent — and 36 paint points.