Denver Brittney Griner and Baylor left no doubt they’re head and shoulders above any team in the country. In fact, they’re perfect.
Griner had 26 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks to lead Baylor to a dominating 80-61 victory over Notre Dame in the NCAA women’s basketball championship on Tuesday night, capping a 40-0 season for the Lady Bears.
They became the seventh women’s team to run through a season unbeaten and the first in NCAA history to win 40 games. It was the second national championship for Baylor, which also won a title in 2005.
Baylor did it in a nearly wire-to-wire victory, finishing a season in which anything less than bringing a title back to Waco would have been a huge disappointment.
And as she so often does, the 6-foot-8 Griner helped the Lady Bears take control. Every time Notre Dame made a run in the second half to cut into the deficit, Griner had an answer. She showed a wide array of post moves, hitting turnaround jumpers and hooks that the Irish had no way to stop — even when they collapsed around her.
“Brittany Griner comes to work every day,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. “A lot of great players think they’re all that and they half go through drills and they come to practice and they dog it. That child comes to work and brings her work pail every day.”
Notre Dame fell short in the title game for the second straight season. The Irish lost to Texas A&M by six points last season. Notre Dame was trying to do something that no other team had done in the NCAA era by knocking off an unbeaten squad in the title game.
Instead, the Irish became the third team to lose in back-to-back championship games, joining Tennessee (2003 and 2004) and Auburn, which dropped three straight (1988, ’89 and ’90).
Coach Muffet McGraw’s senior-heavy crew finished the season having gotten the best of rival Connecticut — the Irish won the Big East regular-season title and defeated the Huskies in three of four meetings, including the national semifinal.
But like every team this year, Notre Dame couldn’t solve Baylor and the most dominant player in women’s basketball.
Griner, selected The Associated Press player of the year, also was named most outstanding player of the tournament.
“We wouldn’t be here without my team,” the junior said. “All the awards — none of that means anything. If I don’t have my team here, we can’t get this.”
Skylar Diggins did all she could to keep the Irish (36-4) in the game, scoring 20 points. But she got little help. Senior Natalie Novosel had five points, going 0-for-11 from the field. Devereaux Peters, also playing in her final game, was saddled with foul trouble because of Griner. She only had seven points.