A towering giant who blocks every shot she can. A 6-foot-8 player who can dunk the ball. A woman who gets triple-doubles in her freshman season.
This Goliath of the basketball court stood as a huge obstacle for a road win at Baylor for the Colorado woman’s basketball team.
But now, Brittney Griner isn’t playing because of a different type of shot she took at Texas Tech guard Jordan Barncastle.
The media is calling it the punch heard round the world. After being swung around in the paint by Barncastle, Griner had a flagrant response—a clothesline-like punch straight to Barncastle’s face.
NCAA handed down a one game suspension, after speculation by teams, media and fans alike over what Griner’s punishment would be. Baylor added its own one game suspension for good measure.
Two games might not seem that significant to most viewers at home, but it has a much deeper impact to the Buffaloes. The second game is the first round of the 2010 Big 12 Women’s Basketball Tournament, and as it just so happens, the second meeting for Colorado and Baylor.
Colorado enters the tournament as the No. 11 seed, while nationally ranked No. 16 Bears enter at the sixth seed. Tip-off is at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Municipal Center in Kansas City, MO.
The last time the teams met, the outcome wasn’t in CU’s favor. The Buffs lost 76-42. In the 34 minutes she played, Griner made 24 points, ten rebounds and 11 blocks.
Griner’s impact on the Bears is as huge as her stature, and the Buffs are hoping that that missing star will be their chance to make it past the first round.
“She kind of gave of us a lot of problems because we couldn’t penetrate,” freshman guard Chucky Jeffery said about the teams’ first match-up. “They kept getting the ball into the middle. So without her there, that’s a big loss for them, but for us, it’ll open up a lot of things. We’re just going to attack, and attack as much as possible.”
The Buffaloes are hoping to attack, and with Griner out, not face another Bear attack. Senior guard Bianca Smith knows that in their last meeting, the team felt worn out from Griner’s smooth skills.
“I think her presence, whether it was blocking shots or getting rebounds or just her emotions, the way she fueled her team, I think was very intimidating, especially for the younger players and even for myself,” Smith said. “We’re so used to being able to get back doors and get layups and get fouls called. When you have a player of her size and her stature in the paint just blocking shots, it’s very difficult to try to stick to doing that and not fall to going outside of your game or fading away or taking bad shots. I think it was hard for us to stick to what we do best at Baylor.”
Head coach Kathy McConnell-Miller noted that at Baylor, her team was mentally affected by Griner’s presence, and in turn, settled for perimeter shots, with the anticipation that they were going to get blocked if they drove into the paint.
But even with her dominant presence, Smith said Griner is no titan.
“I watched her games in high school on television and I knew what she was capable of, but I also saw her lose in the state championship game, so I did know that she’s not Goliath,” Smith said.
Nonetheless, a Griner-less Baylor means more open looks for Colorado. Smith believes that CU will be able to do what they do best on the court and that their offense will be more open for drives and backdoors.
The Bears may be a completely different team without Griner, but that doesn’t mean they have suddenly lost their balance or aren’t one of the nation’s best.
“They’ve all stepped it up, and they know that they’re very different on the floor without her and everybody’s role has changed,” McConnell-Miller said. “They’re a great team with Griner and they’re a great team without her—just a very different team.”
After watching Baylor’s 70-54 loss to No. 18 Texas, McConnell-Miller has noticed where these differences are occurring.
She said Baylor was effective and intense offensively, driving to the basket and making it to the free throw line. However, she said that although their defense was playing smaller and more aggressively, they weren’t playing to their strengths.
Colorado, on the other hand, is trying to play to their strengths and treat the tournament as something brand new.
“I think as a team we look at it as a whole new game, like a whole new season,” Jeffery said. “Whoever wins, wins. Whoever loses, loses. We’re just trying to come out with a good focus.”
In Jeffery’s first tournament appearance, she hopes to be consistent and play the best basketball she’s played all year. At the other end of the spectrum, senior Smith hopes to play her best, as she knows that these games will be her last in a CU jersey.
“I think it means a lot because it could be my last in my Colorado uniform,” Smith said. “So I’m kind of looking forward to winning as many as we can out there and staying as long as we can so that I can keep playing.”
Even with the thought of her final games as a Buffalo in the back of her head, she isn’t going to let emotions take over her focus on the game.
“I think that I’m just trying to stay focused on the task and trying to win the game, not necessarily worrying about my individual issues,” Smith added. “I’m just trying to stay positive and focus on the scout and get as many victories as we can, maybe winning the championship.”
McConnell-Miller is hoping that adjustments the team has made and the strengths of their guards, such as Jeffery and Smith, can take them all the way to the championship round.
“Offensively I think we’re just a little more cohesive,” McConnell-Miller said. “I think we’re driving more. We’re getting more open looks on the perimeter, as opposed to the quick hits or the two guard hits that we run. On the defensive end, we know what our limitations are. We realize that our strength is in our guard. For us to score, we need to have four guards on the floor.”
Most importantly, the Buffs need to play for the full 40 minutes. If they keep their focus during the game, Smith believes their chances are good.
“We have to play hard for 40 minutes,” Smith said. “We have to stick to what we do best and execute our offense and then not have any lulls in games where we have four or five minutes where we fall apart and stop executing. I think if we can execute for 40 minutes and play hard for 40 minutes we can hang with any team in the tournament.”
Contact CU Staff Writer Marlee Horn at Marlee.firstname.lastname@example.org.