Down here on “da Bayou,” amid all the crawfish pie and file gumbo, one’s usual reaction to encountering something of Brittney Griner’s size, presence and skill is to, in the words of any one of the Swamp People, “‘choot it!” Last night, Notre Dame took the floor against a woman who may one day be remembered as the most dominant female basketplayer ever. In a game that saw the Irish spring to an early lead but ultimately yield to a machine-like foe, and thus play out a seasonal homage on parquet to the Easter Uprising of 1916, there was no stopping Baylor or Brittney Griner.
Muffet McGraw’s Irish had an incredibly successful season deploying a four guard and one forward formation. Relying on Skylar Diggins’ magnificence and the keen shooting of Brittany Mallory and Natalie Novosel, the senior-laden Irish squad played a kind of basketball that put them, deservedly, in the Championship. But that formula ran into its antidote in the shape of 6’8″ Griner and the rest of Baylor, whose Odyssey Sims was referred to by the CBS crew as Skylar Diggins’ opposite: the best offense guard (Diggins) versus the best defensive guard (Sims). Unfortunately for the Irish, Baylor’s defense completely shut ND down in the second half to provide a gaudy final score.
The game was close at first and for stretches. Skylar Diggins played her part, with 20 points and cool guidance of her team. Mallory (1-3) and Novosel (0-11), though, disappointed. Neither could have hit water falling out of a boat and when Mallory crashed to the floor in the game’s final minutes, her splayed figure and grimace were an apt picture of the team as a whole.
Baylor owned the second half. Griner had been quiet before that, quietly changing ND’s player’s runs to the hoop, quietly forcing awful shots, quietly rebounding and blocking. But she came alive (she’s alive!) in the second half. She, and the ref’s whistles, which took away any real chance the Irish had when the refs took Devereaux Peters out of the game when ND was within three. Suddenly, the Irish were down fourteen and I was looking for someone (Robert Blanton?) to put a body on Brittney Griner.
Baylor out-rebounded ND 45% to 19% on the offensive glass (credit to Nate Parham at SB Nation for that statistical gem). And, in the end, it was all about Brittney Griner, who we all know by now has had to endure cruel taunts because of her size 17 shoes and a perception that she looks and talks like Reggie Miller. Unfortunately for the Irish, she was just as dominant as the former Pacer great and could only have made her performance last night all the more Miller-esque by taunting Condoleeza Rice before swishing an open jumper. Griner’s post-game deflection of a reporter’s interpretation of Coach McGraw’s comment displayed maturity and class.
No doubt, Baylor deserved the win and their place in history. For the Irish, though, its heartbreak for the seniors. They can, and should, be proud of their run and their own place in NCAA and ND lore. Though Notre Dame brought plenty of heart and story-lines to the big game, last night was all about Baylor and Brittney Griner.