DES MOINES, Iowa – Baylor has two wins to go for 40-0. Tennessee’s future is far less certain.
Brittney Griner had 23 points, 15 rebounds and nine blocked shots before being ejected with less than a minute left as top-seeded Baylor rolled over Tennessee 77-58 Monday night to advance to the women’s Final Four.
“We’re so happy, but you can’t relax,” Destiny Williams said. “We have two more games left.”
Shekinna Stricklen had 22 points for Tennessee (27-9), whose seniors became its first four-year Lady Vols class not to reach a Final Four.
The second-seeded Lady Vols now face an uncertain future, as coach Pat Summitt has yet to say if she’ll return for a 39th season. She announced in August she’d been diagnosed with early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type.
“This team is about Pat Summitt. This team has battled all year,” said Tennessee associate head coach Holly Warlick as she fought back tears. “I’m proud of them. I thought our team and coaching staff obviously was in a difficult situation. But I thought this team was responsive. I wouldn’t trade anything that we did this year.”
The Lady Bears (38-0), who are back in the national semifinals for the second time in three years, will face Stanford on Sunday night in Denver. Should Baylor win it all, it’ll become the first men’s or women’s team in NCAA history to finish a year with 40 wins.
“Definitely happy that we got past this game. It’s not over,” Griner said. “It gets tougher as you go.”
Baylor held Tennessee to 30.3 percent shooting from the floor. Much of that was because of the inside presence of the 6-foot-8 Griner, who was just one block shy of her fifth career triple-double.
“Defense wins ballgames for you,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. “I learned from two of the best. I learned from (Summitt) and (former Louisiana Tech coach) Leon Barmore, you better guard people. And these kids are going to guard you.”
A rather ugly game from a purist’s perspective got even uglier in the final 46.8 seconds.
Baylor’s Odyssey Sims, who led the Bears with 27 points, tumbled to the floor, and she and Stricklen had to be separated and were each assessed technical fouls for unsportsmanlike conduct.
No punches were thrown, but Griner and teammates Terran Condrey and Jordan Madden were ejected for leaving the bench. The NCAA says none of the players will be suspended for the Final Four.
“She just took it the wrong way. We had a little talking back and forth,” Stricklen said about Sims. “I know Odyssey Sims. We played together on USA Basketball. I apologized after the game if she took it the wrong way. It’s just not me. I’m not that type of person.”
As for Summitt, she was given a standing ovation when she came out roughly 15 minutes before tipoff. But as defeat became apparent, she sat silently on the bench with her legs crossed.