Wow. Talk about March Madness. On the last day of the month, comes the biggest surprise of all. Baylor, the defending NCAA champions, upset by fifth-seeded Louisville. The Cardinals were picked in many brackets to win the national title – but on the men’s side. No one thought the women would survive the regional semi-final.
I was planning to write a post titled “Can Brittney Griner Be Stopped?” about the greatest female to play NCAA basketball. Like most basketball fans, I thought the answer was a definitive no. But Louisville found a way Sunday night, pulling off one of the biggest upsets in NCAA tournament history.
Considered a lock for the Final Four – and favorites to win a second straight NCAA championship – Griner and the Lady Bears got bounced 82-81 in a heart-pulsing contest.
Baylor had been practically invincible for the past four months, winning 32 straight games mostly by double digits. But Griner, the team’s 6-foot-8 star, didn’t make a basket until the second half of tonight’s game, then committed a foul with 2.6 seconds left giving Louisville a chance at victory.
“I told our kids we’re going to come out and fire it up. We got nothing to lose,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. “Our goal was to make this a street ballgame.”
The nothing to lose mentality paid off big time. Shoni Schimmel scored 22 points and Monique Reid hit two free throws with 2.6 seconds left to send the Cardinals to the win.
Guard Odyssey Sims scored 28 points and hit a pair of free throws with 9.1 seconds left to give the Lady Bears (34-2) their only lead of the game.
It was a stunning end to Griner’s college career. Not only was she the second-highest scoring player in NCAA history, but she was the only collegiate player to regularly dunk during games.
“I’m just sad,” Griner said. “I didn’t do what I needed to do to get my team to the Elite 8 and just disappointment in myself.”
Griner, who had averaged 33 points in Baylor’s first two games in the tournament, didn’t make a basket until she converted a putback with 15:20 left in the second half. She wound up with 14 points and 10 rebounds, making only four of her 10 shots.
Meanwhile Louisville poured threes from the perimeter and double- and triple-teamed Griner in the paint whenever she touched the ball, effectively neutralizing the dominant center.
Despite the early loss, Griner will be the top pick in the upcoming WNBA draft. She’ll likely leave Baylor a three-time first-team All-American, a two-time national player of the year and the second-leading scorer in women’s college hoops history. She was the lone collegiate player to make USA Basketball roster last year and with a 88 inch (7’4″) wing span and hands bigger than the LeBron’s, she will continue to make an impact on the game.
The Baylor loss comes on the heels of Stanford getting knocked out of the Sweet Sixteen round by Georgia. Both Baylor and Stanford were favorites for the Final Four. Anyone who thinks that only a couple schools are dominant, hasn’t been paying attention.
Along with Louisville and Georgia, Notre Dame, Duke, Cal, Tennessee, Kentucky and UConn round out the Elite Eight.
If you haven’t been a women’s basketball fan, now is the time to tune in. This weekend took fans on a wild ride and the fun is not over yet. Anyone who thinks women’s sports aren’t exciting, is missing out. Run, don’t walk, to the nearest game.