HOUSTON (AP)—Brittney Griner always relishes the chance to play in front of her mom since it doesn’t happen as often as she’d like.
“Anytime my mom is in the crowd, I know I’ll have a really good game,” Griner said. “She doesn’t get to come to a lot of games, so anytime I play in front of her, it makes me go hard.”
Griner’s mother has been limited from attending many of Griner’s games because of health issues. She was in the bleachers along with most of her family and several of Griner’s former high school teammates from Aldine Nimitz High School on Houston’s north side.
Griner received a standing ovation from the predominantly Baylor-backing crowd when she was announced before the game. She didn’t disappoint the fans, adding nine rebounds and four blocks as Baylor (6-1) raced to a 46-17 halftime lead and never looked back.
When Griner was benched with 12 minutes, 46 seconds remaining in the game, she had seven more points than Rice’s entire team.
Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said she would have let Griner keep playing if she had realized she was that close to a double-double.
“I was happy to see Brittney get to come home and play well,” Mulkey said. “That’s always a good thing to see, and I was happy with the way we played in the paint, in general. We saw glimpses of how good they can all be together.”
Baylor’s size dominated the game as 39 of the Lady Bears’ 40 field goals made came inside the 3-point line. Destiny Williams scored 12 points and had 10 rebounds, and Brooklyn Pope had 17 points.
“They just overpowered us in the paint,” Rice coach Greg Williams said. “We couldn’t stop them. Obviously, Brittney had a good game. We’re trying to guard her with 6-foot-1 people and it’s tough.”
Jessica Kuster scored 18 points for Rice (2-4) in the loss, and the Lady Owls were out-rebounded 49-34.
Rice missed 15 of its first 16 shots from the field and never recovered.
Williams called Baylor the “favorite to win the national championship,” and spoke highly of Griner’s homecoming.
“She’s one of the greatest athletes to ever come through Houston, and it was nice to be able to let her come back and play in her hometown,” Williams said. “And by golly, she made the most of it.”
Baylor All-American point guard Odyssey Sims missed her fourth straight game since sustaining a strained hamstring in the Lady Bears’ 71-69 loss to Stanford. Starting in Sims’ place, freshman point guard Niya Johnson earned strong praise from Baylor coach Kim Mulkey after finishing with 11 assists and just one turnover.
“She’s got great instincts for the game,” Mulkey said of Johnson. “She made everything easier for the other players.”
Baylor will visit fifth-ranked Notre Dame next Wednesday in a national title game rematch. Mulkey joked about an instance of her team dealing with adversity on the road when laughing about a Rice fan in the student section who yelled at her to, “shut up.”
“I was about to go down there and blow him a kiss or something, but the girls grabbed me,” Mulkey said, describing the late-game event that had her bench rolling with laughter. “They all said, `Don’t hit him, coach.’ We were just having fun.”