DENVER – Brittney Griner and Baylor left no doubt theyre head and shoulders above any team in the country. In fact, theyre perfect.
Griner had 26 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks to lead Baylor to a dominating 80-61 victory over Notre Dame in the NCAA womens basketball championship on Tuesday night, capping a 40-0 season for the Bears.
They became the seventh womens team to run through a season unbeaten and the first in NCAA history to win 40 games. It was the second national championship for Baylor, which also won a title in 2005.
Baylor did it in a nearly wire-to-wire victory, finishing a season in which anything less than bringing a title back to Waco would have been a huge disappointment.
And as she so often does, the 6-foot-8 Griner helped the Bears take control. Every time Notre Dame made a run in the second half to cut into the deficit, Griner had an answer. She showed a wide array of post moves hitting turnaround jumpers and hooks that the Irish had no way to stop – even when they collapsed around her.
Brittany Griner comes to work every day, Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. A lot of great players think theyre all that and they half go through drills and they come to practice and they dog it. That child comes to work and brings her work pail every day.
Notre Dame fell short in the title game for the second straight season. The Irish lost to Texas A&M by six points last season. Notre Dame was trying to do something that no other team had done in the NCAA era by knocking off an unbeaten squad in the title game.
Instead, the Irish became the third team to lose in back-to-back championship games, joining Tennessee (2003 and 2004) and Auburn, which dropped three straight (1988, 89 and 90).
Coach Muffet McGraws senior-heavy crew finished the season having gotten the best of rival Connecticut – the Irish won the Big East regular season title and defeated the Huskies in three-of-four meetings, including the national semifinal.
But like every team this year, Notre Dame couldnt solve Baylor and the most dominant player in womens basketball.
Griner, selected The Associated Press Player of the Year, also was named most outstanding player of the tournament.
We wouldnt be here without my team, the junior said. All the awards – none of that means anything. If I dont have my team here, we cant get this.
Skylar Diggins did all she could to keep the Irish (36-4) in the game, scoring 20 points. But she got little help. Senior Natalie Novosel had five points, going 0 for 11 from the field. Devereaux Peters, also playing in her final game, was saddled with foul trouble because of Griner. She only had seven points.
Like Griner, Diggins has pledged to return for her senior year – both could join the WNBA – and will try to make a third run at the title.
Notre Dame took an early 9-8 lead before Baylor took over with a 12-2 run. The Irish were down by 14 in the first half before cutting their deficit to 34-28 at the break. They got as close as 42-39 and had the ball, but Griner asserted herself, scoring nine of the next 19 points for Baylor to seal the victory.
Odyssey Sims added 19 points and Destiny Williams had 12 for the Bears, who outrebounded Notre Dame 46-27 and now have the third unbeaten season in womens basketball in the last four years. UConn, which has gone undefeated four times, did it in back-to-back years in 2009 and 2010.