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 win over the top-seeded Volunteers 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 Bears (26-9) will face No. 2 seed Duke on Monday night.
The 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 win 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.
“You’re watching a phenom out here play above the rim,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said.
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 rank her second in history. Duke’s Alison Bales holds the record with 30 in 2006.
The teams went back and forth throughout the first half and early in the second, trading the lead 10 times and tying four times. With both 6-foot-6 Kelley Cain and 6-foot-3 Alyssia Brewer on the floor to guard Griner, Tennessee found some success inside and was up 55-50 with just less than 8 minutes left.
The Vols’ orange-clad crowd fell silent as Griner hit back-to-back layups and had a three-point play as part of a 21-1 run as Tennessee’s defense unraveled.
Tennessee turned to its shooters in desperation. Though University High graduate Angie Bjorklund and Shekinna Stricklen managed to hit jumpers in traffic and knock down a few 3s in the first half, they missed left and right in the second half.
Stricklen led Tennessee with 18 points, and Bjorklund added 12.
“I think anytime you play against a 6-8 player, it’s is going to be tough to shoot over her,” Bjorklund said. “At the same time, I thought when our posts did have the ball they did a good job. Going against her, we just needed to give the posts more touches.”