Tall, Talented Griner, Lady Bears Cruise Past Buffs
BOULDER - Third-ranked Baylor halted Colorado's three-game winning streak Saturday afternoon, but the Buffaloes don't believe the 81-59 defeat derailed their momentum heading into next week's Big 12 Conference postseason tournament.
The Lady Bears and towering Brittney Griner used a 14-0 second-half run to dispose of the resilient Buffs at the Coors Events Center. After trailing by as many as 20 points in the first half, CU cut the deficit to 34-28 at intermission - but the 6-foot-8 Griner and her supporting cast were overpowering in the final 20 minutes.
"I liked our resiliency and fight in the first half . . . we could have packed it in early and didn't. That shows lot about our players," said first-year CU Coach Linda Lappe, whose team is seeded No. 9 and faces No. 8 seed Kansas in the Big 12 tournament's opening game (10 a.m. MST) on Tuesday in Kansas City.
KU defeated CU twice in regular-season play, 68-58 in Boulder and 81-53 in Lawrence. Nonetheless, Buffs players believe they match up well with the Jayhawks and are eager for a third meeting.
"We want to give them one . . . we owe Kansas one," said Chelsea Dale, one of three CU seniors honored Saturday in their final regular-season home game.
Lappe said her team, which goes to KC at 15-14 overall and 6-10 in the conference, believes it knows KU "fairly well and know what they do. They played tremendous the last time they played us and we didn't play very well. I like it because we've gotten so much better since (then)."
Saturday's game drew 6,102, the largest crowd for a CU women's game since 6,163 attended a CU-Oklahoma State matchup in February, 2004. Many were drawn Saturday by Griner, the women game's most recognizable player. She didn't disappoint. Scoring 17 of her points in the second half, the sophomore from Houston recorded game highs in points (26) and rebounds (13) in her first and last trip to Boulder.
Senior Brittany Spears led CU with 23 points. She entered the afternoon needing 37 to become the school's career leading scorer and received a standing ovation when she left the court with 43.5 seconds to play.
The Buffs played without sophomore Chucky Jeffery, their top rebounder (8.1) and second-leading scorer (13.7). She has been in New York for the last three days attending the funeral of her great grandmother, but is expected to be in the lineup Tuesday.
"Obviously, it's a huge difference," Lappe said of Jeffery being out. "She plays a lot of minutes . . . she's a scorer on the floor and she kind of gets us into what we need to do."
The absence of Jeffery reduced CU's already thin roster to eight available players. It was the fourth game this season that Jeffery has missed. A concussion kept her out of two January games, a suspension sidelined her for the February KU contest in Lawrence.
Baylor, which led by as many as 27 points in Saturday's final 10 minutes, improved to 28-2 overall and 15-1 - a record number of league victories for the Lady Bears in winning their second regular-season Big 12 championship.
The only blemishes on Baylor's regular-season record were a one-point loss (65-64) to then-No. 1 Connecticut in mid-November and a 56-45 loss at Texas Tech on Feb. 19.
With Jeffery out against then-No. 17 Iowa State on Jan. 15, the Buffs defeated the Cyclones 66-60 in overtime. But the way Saturday's game opened, CU surprising another ranked opponent seemed very improbable. The buzz surrounding the Senior Day introduction of the trio of CU seniors - Spears, Dale and Britney Blythe - disappeared after the Buffs missed their first six shots and the Lady Bears raced to a 13-0 lead.
Four consecutive layups and a pair of free throws by Griner pushed Baylor ahead 10-0, and before CU could get a jumper by Spears for its first points Baylor was up 13-0.
The big Events Center crowd undoubtedly believed it was destined to watch things get much worse. The Lady Bears rolled to a pair of 20-point leads until the Buffs settled in and got competitive.
"It just took us a while to figure out that Baylor was still human and they were going to make some mistakes and we could take advantage of some of those things," Lappe said.
After Baylor's second 20-point advantage - 30-10 with 7:22 before intermission - CU closed out the half with an 18-4 run and trailed only 34-28 at the break.
During the run, the Buffs got three-pointers from the Wilson sisters (Brittany and Ashley), Blythe and Spears. Dale said the Lady Bears showed fatigue "especially when we made our run. We really capitalized on the fact that they didn't get up and down the court as fast as they did in the beginning. That's where our conditioning at altitude really kicked in."
But the Buffs' second-half start was little better than the way they opened. With CU missing its first four field goal attempts, Baylor quickly put together a 9-3 run and opened another double-figure lead - 43-31.
The Buffs trimmed the deficit to single figures (43-35), but the Lady Bears responded with a 14-0 run to take their largest lead of the afternoon to that point. With 11:43 to play, CU trailed 57-35, and another rally seemed improbable. It was.
Baylor shot 32 free throws (26 made) to CU's eight (six made), but Lappe attributed that disparity to the Lady Bears' inside presence - especially Griner - while the Buffs took most of their 69 shots from outside the paint.
"I thought we took a lot of outside shots, and that's what we needed to do - that's what a lot of teams (playing) Baylor do," Lappe said. "That's our game; to tell you the truth we don't get a lot of things at the basket anyway."
In addition to her double-double, Griner blocked four shots - .5 below her average. She ranks second nationally.
"She's tall," understated Blythe, while Dale called Griner "a great player and you want to give her kudos, of course. But there are also ways that we could guard her, and that's how we looked at it when we went into the game."
Half of the Buffs' six wins came in the final two weeks of the season - a late surge that Blythe believes has made the league take notice. "People are not going to roll over us," she said. "They're afraid to play us a little bit and they have to worry that we'll come out and play our hardest and that we won't give up.
"That's the exciting part, because we know anything can happen. Like Coach Lappe always says, 'It's March. You never know what can happen.'"
The Buffs leave for Kansas City Monday morning.