DENVER – All season, coach Kim Mulkey said if Baylor were to win a national championship, it wouldn't be because of stars like Brittney Griner or Odyssey Sims. It would be because of role players like Jordan Madden and Terran Condrey.
And while the national title still is a win away, it was those latter two players who helped the Lady Bears defeat Stanford 59-47 in the semifinals of the NCAA tournament here Sunday night and keep the dream of a national title and a record 40-0 season alive.
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"Griner does what she does," Mulkey said. "She draws a lot of attention [but] we're not a one-dimensional team. Brittney Griner is the face of women's basketball right now, and we embrace that. She deserves that and it's great recognition for Baylor. But our team is not just Brittney Griner."
On a night when Stanford was focused on stopping the nation's best player, Madden and Condrey contributed 22 total points, including 13 by Condrey, which was one point short of her season high. And it wasn't just that these "role" players were making shots; it was when. Baylor was stifled on offense the better part of the first half, but in the second half Condrey scored 10, more than any other Baylor player.
"We were totally off of either No. 3 [Madden] or 20 [Condrey], and 20 hit some big shots," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. "She hit one 3. She's made 10 all year. She had a couple shots for them that she stepped up nicely. I think she gave them some momentum."
Stanford never was secretive about its game plan to focus on Griner, and that's no different from every other team that has played the Lady Bears this season. The Cardinal kept a defender in front of Griner and one in back and took the risk of leaving Madden and Condrey open because they hadn't been as successful on the offensive end.
And the plan against Griner worked. Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike, Bonnie Samuelson, Joslyn Tinkle and Sarah Boothe all took turns challenging and bumping and frustrating Griner into her worst field goal percentage of the season (.333) and second-worst point total of the year (13).
"They always had two people on me or a second defender come in to try to double me," Griner said. "They stuck with their plan the whole game. It was frustrating. You get frustrated when your shot doesn't go in. But I had confidence in my team. Like Coach said, it's not the Brittney Griner show at all."
Stanford might have been able to reap the benefits of that defense on Griner had it been able to knock down open shots. The Cardinal shot 33.3 percent – its second-worst shooting percentage of the season – on 60 shots and made just two of 17 3-pointers. And most of the Cardinal's poor shooting was based on fear. The players didn't want to go into the paint and face Griner's imposing presence, so they passed and passed and passed until the shot clock winded down and they were forced to jack up an errant shot.
Nneka Ogwumike was one of the worst offenders as she made just nine of her 23 shots and missed all five of her 3-point attempts.
"Having Brittney in the paint, it completely changes everyone's game," Ogwumike said. "Attacking the basket is a little more difficult as you saw. Toni [Kokenis] and Amber [Orrange] were trying to get in there and you kind of have to think about making an extra pass. Your first instinct is to shoot.
"Ultimately, I think it was kind of difficult for us to really figure out what we wanted to do on offense. I think we were too worried about her."
Ogwumike noted that playing Griner was as much mental as it was physical. Seeing her on film blocking shot after shot is one thing, but actually staring down her 6-foot-8 frame while going to the basket is a totally different animal.
"I was definitely psyching myself out," Ogwumike said. "Granted, Griner has over 200 blocked shots in her career, more than our whole team combined and that's amazing.
"In reality, attacking her wasn't as hard as we thought it would be."
But by the time Ogwumike got up the nerve to start attacking Griner, it was too late. The game had gotten away, and the rest of the Stanford team wasn't contributing much offensively to help any potential surge Ogwumike might spur.
And that was the difference – Baylor's role players came through when their team needed them and Stanford's didn't.
"I think things didn't go our way," Tinkle said. "Whether it was some offensive mistakes, we had a charge, and it's just those little things. I was missing shots, and other people were missing shots. I think we maybe lost a little bit of focus offensively, which stinks."
Taking teams out of their offense, whether through her play or reputation, is exactly what Griner does.
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