Tag Archives: Brittney Griner

Watching women’s basketball blow it…

For years I’ve wondered why the men’s NCAA basketball championship is played on Monday and the women’s championship is decided the day after.  In most other sporting events where males and females compete in separate championships, the women precede their male counterparts (think Olympic sports). 

But then this year’s tournaments played out.  The  top men’s teams kept bowing out while the Connecticut women kept winning by 40; men’s teams from small schools in small markets advanced and Brittney Griner blocked shot after shot.  When the Final Four shook out in each tournament, the men’s version was devoid of the top teams (saved by Duke) and the top players (not one first team All-American) and the women’s edition had the top two teams in the final AP women’s poll (UConn and Stanford) and Baylor’s freshman sensation (Griner).

Beyond that, the UConn 76-game winning streak was in tact and the Lady Huskies had a semifinal matchup against Griner and Baylor with the possibility of a rematch with  Stanford.  The Cardinal were the last team to defeat UConn (in the 2008 national semifinals) and were the only team to lead the Huskies at the half this season when they played on Dec. 23.

The opportunity was there for the women to upstage the men.  I wrote about Griner being the star of both tournaments and touted the match-up with UConn as a monumental one.  The two teams delivered a hard-fought game, won by the Huskies.  That set up the rematch with Stanford, and everything seemed to be falling into place.

It was on Monday night, after the Duke-Butler game, that I thought to myself, “This is why the women play after the men.”  Think about it: the men just had an amazing game that many were hoping would eke its way into overtime.  Then you have the women’s final with the fantastic story of UConn’s 77-game winning streak against Stanford, eager for payback.  For basketball fans salivating for more and with UConn being advertised by some as the greatest team in the history of college ball at any level, die-hard hoops fans (like me) would naturally gravitate to this game.  The thought of a team as dominating as John Wooden’s UCLA squads could draw viewers.  People would surely watch.  What an opportunity for the sport of women’s basketball and the NCAA!

But then the teams took the court…and stunk it up.

ESPN sent a text out at the end of the half with a news alert telling subscribers that UConn was losing to Stanford, 20-12.  This probably caught the attention of casual fans who knew about the Huskies’ 77-game winning streak.  The telecast probably gained viewers within minutes of this text going out.  Unfortunately, at the same time viewers who were watching since the opening tip were changing the channel to Dancing with the Stars, American Idol or The Biggest Loser.

Why?  Because it was the lowest scoring game in NCAA championship game history and may have been the worst half of college basketball at any level.

Stanford’s defense was superb and their game plan to slow things down and keep the score low almost had them pulling the upset, but for a fan who was giving the women’s game a shot for the first time, what they witnessed would have had them running for the remote to watch Chad Ochocinco dance the Paso Doble on DWTS

The first half saw 32 total points scored and the team combined to shoot just over 21 percent from the field (13-for-60).  UConn shot 17 percent on their own, making just five of 29 shots.  Even the teams shot poorly when defense wasn’t an issue, making just one of six free throw attempts in the half.  Connecticut missed all four of their free throws in the half.  Fans attempting to buy in to the women’s game must have been thinking they had the wrong channel.

From a gameplay standpoint, the Huskies were completely lost in the first half.  Geno Auriemma so much as admitted that, saying that they really needed a halftime to talk things over.  UConn was so out of sorts that several shots were just throw up there, including air balls, shots that went astray off just the backboard and attempts that clanged off the rim.  Stanford didn’t do much better, but they seemed to be more in the flow of their offense and they had the lead throughout the half, so keeping the status quo wasn’t much of an issue for coach Tara VanDerveer and the Cardinal.

But for a basketball fan who just watched the Duke-Butler game the night before and was still itching for some fundamental hoops, watching this game must have been a travesty.  The women’s game got what it wanted: interest.  People were finally focussing on the UConn story and on the female tournament.  ESPN had the broadcast rights, so the mothership was pouring it on pretty thick.  The stars were aligning.  How many new fans could have been had if the game was played at a high level, with good shooting and a better performance from UConn?

I tuned into the game for the first half and was floored by the bad shots, the lack of scoring and the sloppy play.  What a way to showcase your sport and then see it all go up in flames. 

Hopefully, those who tuned in after the text sent from ESPN stuck around.  They would have seen a much better second half where UConn opened up with a 17-2 run that put them in front for the long haul.  The Huskies eventually won the lowest scoring NCAA championship in history, 53-47.  I’m willing to bet, however, that the broadcast lost more viewers after the first half’s abysmal play than they gained when people found out UConn was actually losing.  I know they lost me.

The sad thing is that this was a magical tournament for the female brand of basketball.  Despite the fact that parity isn’t part of the women’s game at the moment, Griner gave the effort a boost with her stellar play and UConn is a spectacular story as they now aim for Wooden’s UCLA record when the 2010-2011 season gets started in November.  But what could have been will be what organizers and supporters of women’s basketball will now wonder.  What fans saw on Tuesday was brick after brick when they should have seen two rivals and the best teams in America fighting for a trophy. 

Defense wins championships, but in the case of Tuesday night’s women’s final, it lost potential fans.

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Filed under Basketball, Baylor University, College Basketball, Final Four, NCAA Tournament, Stanford University, University of Connecticut, Women's Basketball, Women's College Basketball

Watching Brittney Griner…

In a college basketball season where the Final Four is a disaster and ratings nightmare for CBS, there is only one thing that has kept me watching the NCAA tournament this year.  She is a 6’8″ freshman center from Houston, Texas who wears a men’s shoe size of 18.  Brittney Griner of Baylor University is the only show in town this weekend and she’s not in Indianapolis where’s the men’s games are being held.

Unfortunately, the men’s Final Four features a who’s who of walking boredom with no first-team All-Americans, the only number one seed (Duke) is one that is widely hated and nobody wanted (or picked to be) here, Michigan State is without its best player, Butler has the tired Hoosiers schtick down and West Virginia is missing  point guard again but has the best player left in the tourney in DaSean Butler, who only made the second team in the All-American honors.

On the women’s side there are two primary storylines that will collide on Sunday night in San Antonio.  The University of Connecticut Huskies have won 76 straight games and have defeated their opponents in the tournament by an average of 47 points.  Geno Auriemma’s squad is the most dominant force in college basketball and the term dynasty just can’t apply to a team that has not lost a game in three seasons, wins games by nearly seven touchdowns and makes news when they trail at the half, as they did to Stanford earlier this season.  We need a new term to describe this kind of success.

Then there is Griner, who is the biggest story in both NCAA tournaments this year, bigger than Butler, bigger than the Kansas upset by Northern Iowa and bigger than CBS’s floundering ratings.  Griner is a 6’8″ monster.  In the regular season, she averaged 18.6 points, 8.6 rebounds and just under 6.5 blocks a game for a Baylor squad that won 27 games on their to a four seed in the tournament. 

The freshman was a veritable Wilt Chamberlain at times this year, clearly a bigger physical presence than most others on the floor, shooting over defenders, dunking when others cannot, blocking shots all over the place and dominating every aspect of the inside game.

In the postseason, Griner has averaged 17 points, 8 rebounds and an astonishing 9 blocks a game.  Griner has already set a record for blocks in a single NCAA tournament with 35 total swats and Baylor is still playing.  The Bears have defeated perennial powers Duke and Tennessee on their run.  Griner was the story in both games, putting up 27 points and blocking 10 shots in the win over Pat Summit’s Lady Vols and finishing one block short of a triple-double against the Blue Devils, tallying 15 points, 11 rebounds and 9 blocked shots.

Images of Wilt Chamberlain conjure comparisons to Griner because of the physical difference on the court.  But like Wilt, Griner has not led her teams to championships. Before enrolling at Baylor, she led Houston’s Nimitz High School to the Texas 5A State Championship game where they fell short to Mansfield Summit, 52-43.

While Griner’s physical prowess reminds most of Wilt, her on-the-court abilities conjure more of a Bill Russell vibe for me.  I’ve had the opportunity to watch some of her tournament games in the last two weeks and her ability to defend the basket and keep balls in play on blocked shots is uncanny, just like Russell’s was.  The number of shots she blocks or changes in a given game has to exceed 20.  If a team takes 55 shots in a game, that means that Griner has affected nearly half of the attempts.  Against Duke (a 51-48 win to put the Bears into the Final Four), the Blue Devils shot just 23 percent from the field.  What would they have shot if Griner hadn’t made her presence known with her 9 blocks?  How many other shots did she alter?  Had the Devils made just ten more buckets, they would have shot 39 percent and won the game by double figures.

More than any other basketball player still playing (regardless of gender), Griner has that “wow” factor that fans so lust after.  Her 6’8″ frame allows her to do things on the basketball court that others can’t.  In January of 2007, a YouTube video of her dunking in a high school game circulated the Web.  Her first dunk in a collegiate game came in just the fifth game of her career.  She dunked twice in a 99-18 blowout of Texas State University.  On December 16, Griner set the Big 12 Conference record for blocked shots in a game with 11 against Oral Roberts.  In a side note, she had a triple-double in that contest, scoring a career-high 34 points and grabbing 11 boards.  It was the first triple-double in Baylor history.

In addition to holding the record for most blocks in an NCAA tournament, Griner also holds the record for the most rejections in one NCAA tournament game, tallying 14 in Baylor’s win over Georgetown.  Be reminded that Ms. Griner is just a freshman.

On Sunday night, the Bears look to continue their run in the tournament by taking on UConn.  While no one expects a win, the attention on this game is paramount for women’s basketball.  The dominance of the Huskies combined with the spectacle that Brittney Griner has become will make this one of the most watched women’s basketball games in television history.  Perhaps the only thing better would have been if Baylor and UConn were on different sides of the bracket and could meet in a championship game on Tuesday night.

For Griner, her freshman year has been an amazing ride and she may have come along at a time when women’s college basketball needed her the most.  She plays the game above the rim like most fans of the men’s game expect to see it.  She runs the court like Amar’e Stoudemire and protects the rim like Dwight Howard. Video of her dunking has become so common it can longer be referred to as viral.  I know I will be watching when she takes the court against the Huskies on Sunday and I’m sure many other male sports fans who never cared for the women’s game are planning to do the same. 

Most importantly, we must always be reminded that she is a freshman.  Imagine when (if?) she plays as a senior and has a more polished offensive game and an even better sense of what she can do physically.  Maybe she will even grow a couple more inches as college freshmen tend to do.

No matter what happens against UConn on Easter Sunday, Brittney Griner has done something UConn’s 76-game winning streak has not been able to do: capture a national audience.

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Filed under Basketball, Baylor University, Final Four, NCAA Tournament, University of Connecticut, Women's Basketball, Women's College Basketball