Sims just as important to Baylor
Says coach Kim Mulkey: 'Brittney is only as good as her point guard'
NEW YORK -- Baylor Nation, in all its green and gold glory, descended on the Big Apple this weekend to watch newly crowned Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III claim the most prestigious individual award in college sports.
Those who stuck around for No. 1 Baylor's 73-59 win against St. John's at Madison Square Garden saw why claiming the only team honor that matters in women's basketball for a second time will require a collaborative effort between the nation's best player and the quarterback alongside her.
On the face of it, only one of the two Baylor-related events in town offered much hope for drama, and it wasn't the opening game of Sunday's Maggie Dixon Classic. The Red Storm entered with four losses in nine starts this season and arrived still without the services of injured star Da'Shena Stevens. Trent Richardson, Andrew Luck, Montee Ball and Tyrann Mathieu the Red Storm were not. But there the locals were, leading 32-30 at halftime and proving more of a challenge than RGIII's competition.
Baylor made the conscious decision to make the most of its experience in New York, an admittedly tiring process in a city that never sleeps. The Lady Bears spent Saturday touring the city, waiting outside the site of the Heisman ceremony to support Griffin and taking in a Broadway show in the evening.
Sunday's game started before noon local time to accommodate an evening hockey game, a circumstance which lent a certain chill to the floor of the arena, and found a focused St. John's team waiting to execute an extremely well-crafted game plan from coach Kim Barnes Arico. Throw in finals week back home and Kim Mulkey's late arrival after watching her son play in a Texas high school football championship game Friday, and the list of potential excuses was extensive.
"Today would have been a perfect environment to get beat," Mulkey said.
That it didn't certainly has something to do with Griner's unparalleled status as a safety valve. She took only eight shots against a defense determined to make other players beat it and disciplined enough to act on it, but she still managed 17 points, in addition to 13 rebounds, six blocks and her typically unquantifiable presence.
Griner is this team's RGIII, the larger-than-life presence with talent that at times borders on unstoppable. It's Griner whom the Heisman winner challenged to a dunk contest (sadly, to be completed at the conclusion of her eligibility, per Mulkey's demand). And it's Griner who answered back by challenging the quarterback to a throwing contest, albeit one she admitted after Sunday's game she would likely lose.
And it was Griner, head poking above the crowd, who drew a swarm of autograph seekers when she appeared in a fan zone at halftime of the second game between Tennessee and DePaul. Like RGIII, she's one of a kind.
"Brittney is the same kind of personality," Mulkey said. "You'll see Robert at our games, you'll see Brittney at a soccer game. You'll see Brittney on the sideline at a football game doing cartwheels prior to the game. Brittney and Robert are very comfortable with the spotlight. They're very comfortable in their own bodies. They're very confident. And they're very good people. They really are. They make mistakes. But if you want an autograph and there are 500 people there, they'll sign every autograph you need. If you need a picture taken, they'll take every picture.
"That's the kind of kid you want representing your university."
But Griner cannot be Griffin once the whistle blows. She might be comfortable in her body, but she's not going to bring the ball up the court or initiate the offense, nor would it make sense to put her size on the perimeter even if she could. Griner wasn't to blame for the sluggish first half, and she wasn't the sole reason for the turnaround.
She really, really might be the best point guard in the country. People don't want to believe that, but she really might be. And it's because of what she does defensively. You don't have to beg her to guard somebody.” -- Baylor coach Kim Mulkey on sophomore Odyssey Sims
Griner is the star, but as a former point guard like Mulkey knows better than most, there's only one quarterback on a basketball team. For Baylor, that's Odyssey Sims. And with Sims in foul trouble in the first half and ineffective in the time she did spend on the court, the Lady Bears looked out of sync on both ends of the court.
Her ineffectiveness on this day underscored just how important her typical effectiveness is for this team.
"Odyssey Sims is a much improved player," Mulkey said. "She's just a kid that's born with instincts to play the game of basketball. I hate she got in foul trouble -- I tried to put her in, and then I got nervous and thought, "No, this kid's going to be all right; we're going to be all right in the second half.' But she has made us better because she is responding more to my style of coaching, she's responding more to the demands that we really placed upon her as a point guard."
Baylor looked the part of its ranking for only the briefest of stretches Sunday, mostly during a 10-0 run early in the second half fueled by defensive pressure. The Lady Bears forced only eight turnovers, again partly a credit to the Red Storm, but they aren't a team that relies on takeaways to suffocate opposing offenses. They turn you over in ways that don't show up under that heading, like the shots that would make a contortionist wince when players are confronted with Griner's long reach anywhere around the paint.
It's also true of the hurried look opponents get when Sims is at her best, speeding up the game and allowing players like Jordan Madden and Kimetria Hayden to get out in transition off misses or turnovers.
"You didn't get to see it much today, but you continue to see her work on the defensive end of the floor," Mulkey said of Sims. "She's so quick, and she makes everybody else work hard and run the floor hard. She really, really might be the best point guard in the country. People don't want to believe that, but she really might be. And it's because of what she does defensively. You don't have to beg her to guard somebody."
Baylor didn't look like the nation's best team for much of Sunday's game, but the Lady Bears escaped with a win because they are exactly good enough to win games at less than full speed against determined opponents. That won't work next weekend against Connecticut, just as it wouldn't have worked in victories this season against Notre Dame and Tennessee. To win those games, Baylor needs the best player and the best quarterback.
"Brittney is only as good as her point guard," Mulkey said. "Brittney can't run the show out there; Brittney is dependent on her point guard. If those two are on different pages, we can't win a championship. They don't have to be best friends. Just make sure when you step on the floor, 'I've got you, you've got me, let's work this thing together.'"
It was a weekend for Baylor to celebrate individual brilliance. But the season is going to require a collaboration.
Graham Hays is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn3.com.
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