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Sunday, January 27, 2013
Griner is espnW player of week

By Graham Hays
espnW

Editor's note: Charlie Creme, Graham Hays, Michelle Smith and Mechelle Voepel each vote to determine espnW's national player of the week, which is awarded every Monday of the women's college basketball season.

For a basketball season that began about the same time Alex Smith lost his starting quarterback job for the San Francisco 49ers, it's difficult to believe we're just now getting around to honoring Brittney Griner as espnW's player of the week.

What does the favorite for player-of-the-year honors have to do to merit in-season recognition?

Apparently, she needs to break the NCAA record for career blocked shots while leading Baylor to two comfortable wins against ranked opponents. Is that really asking so much?

The bar is set high for Griner. Fortunately, she's well-equipped to reach it.

Baylor's senior star was a force in victories on the road against No. 24 Iowa State and at home against No. 20 Oklahoma.

She finished with 22 points, eight rebounds and six blocks in the 66-51 win against the Cyclones, no small matter in a venue that has been a bugaboo for Baylor in recent seasons. Before the win, the Lady Bears were just 1-1 in Ames during the Griner era, and the 24-point loss they suffered there when Griner was a freshman remains the worst of her college career. In this instance, they led by as many as 24 points in the second half and cruised to the win.

Brittney Griner
Brittney Griner became the all-time NCAA leader in blocked shots Saturday.

Griner's performance was similarly stellar in the victory against Oklahoma. She finished with 15 points in a game in which six Baylor players reached double figures, eight rebounds and eight blocks. But the points and rebounds weren't the story. In some ways, neither was the 82-65 win that gave Baylor a two-game lead in the Big 12. Instead, those eight blocks pushed Griner past former Saint Mary's standout Louella Tomlinson for the career record of 665 and counting.

For some perspective, no other active player in Division I has even 350 blocked shots.

In some ways, we've known this record was coming since Griner arrived in Waco (seriously, she blocked four shots on the road at Tennessee in her first college game and then eight the next game). What makes her so special, to the point of almost being easy to take for granted when cast against compelling narratives like Skylar Diggins' long-running rivalry with Connecticut or Elena Delle Donne's return from illness, is how much more than a shot blocker she is these days.

By way of example, as a freshman, Griner turned over the ball nearly three times a game and shot 68 percent from the free throw line. After this past week's performances? The leading active career scorer in college basketball turns it over barely once per game and is better than 70 percent from the free throw line for the third season in a row.

"She didn't really know a whole lot of moves," Mulkey said earlier this season about Griner's first days at Baylor. "She just turned, shot, dunked, jump shot. But she's learned how to read the defender, she's learned how to feel the defender. Brittney is an athlete in that body. If I wanted to draw up 3-point plays, Brittney Griner could shoot 3-point shots, easily. If I wanted to draw up something where I give her the ball and set screens and say take them off the dribble, Brittney Griner can do that."

She can do everything, including blocking shots. And maybe it's about time we acknowledge her for it as our player of the week.

Also nominated

Kelly Faris, Connecticut: The case for Faris was probably best made by her coach after the senior finished with 18 points, 12 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals, in addition to defensively erasing Chelsea Gray as No. 3 Connecticut embarrassed previously unbeaten No. 4 Duke in the second half of a 79-49 win. Huskies coach Geno Auriemma said of Faris, "I don't know that anybody ever represented that uniform and herself and her family the way that kid did tonight."

Maggie Lucas, Penn State: She averaged 20.3 points and 4.7 rebounds in wins against Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio State.

Toni Young, Oklahoma State: She had 15 points, 15 rebounds and 4 blocks in a win against Kansas and 22 points and 9 rebounds in a loss against Kansas State.