- Mechelle Voepel, espnW.com
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Baylor coach Kim Mulkey talks about how much better a passer Brittney Griner has become, and how that has helped her overall offensive game.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Truth is, Kansas State really didn't play badly in Friday's Big 12 tournament semifinals. The Wildcats, like so many other teams this season, just ran into the "Great Wall of Griner."
And that can stop you dead in your tracks. Or at least that's what it feels like even when you've done about everything you can and you still lose 86-65, as No. 5 seed Kansas State did against No. 1 Baylor.
Griner scored 45 points, a single-game Big 12 tournament record. It's also her personal record, topping the 41 points she had in the regular-season finale against Iowa State.
The previous Big 12 tourney record was 43, set by Oklahoma State guard Andrea Riley against Iowa State in 2010. There's a 15-inch height difference between the 6-foot-8 Griner and the 5-5 Riley, who is now in the WNBA. But there's also this difference: Riley set her record in a game that the Cowgirls won 62-59, so Oklahoma State really needed every point Riley scored.
The Lady Bears, who advanced into the Big 12 final for the sixth time, didn't necessarily need all 45 from Griner. And some folks are sure to grumble about that, as she played 37 minutes. But considering what Griner has meant to this program, it's understandable why Mulkey -- when she realized her star had a chance at the record -- wanted her to get it.
"I was getting ready to take her out," Mulkey said. "And [the assistant coaches] said, 'Coach, she's five points away. We know you're not about records, but why not?' You may never get that close again."
True, but considering the way Griner is playing while she's still just a junior, she might even break her own mark in Saturday's final or in next year's tournament. For her part, though, Griner didn't have that much to say about the record. She just grinned a lot.
"I'm happy I got it," Griner said. "It would have been sweeter if it was 45 blocks."
Good grief, the Wildcats' shooters might have needed serious therapy if that had happened. As it was, K-State guard Brittany Chambers graciously acknowledged it was something special just playing in a game involving Griner, even as an opponent.
"I think with each game, she's evolving her game more and more," said Chambers, who led K-State with 18 points. "I mean, we tried to push her out. But when you push her out, her mid-range game has improved so much from last year. It's fun to be on the court with her. I guess now [talking about it]. Not when it's happening."
Griner had some fun at her own expense after the game, as her missed dunk attempt amused her.
"I thought I was Blake Griffin," she said. "I tried to throw it in, it hit rim, came out."
To K-State's defenders, though, she might as well have been Blake Griffin, she was so hard to stop.
"We don't have the height that some other teams have," Chambers said. "When she's stepping back making shots over all of us like she is, there's not much you can do."
Griner made 19 of 28 shots from the field and was 7 of 10 from the foul line. She also had 10 rebounds, seven blocked shots and four assists. In Baylor's two regular-season victories over K-State, Griner had 22 and 29 points.
"The last two games we played them, we tried junk [defense], tried zone," K-State coach Deb Patterson said. "And just got our lunch handed to us, and didn't board the ball at all."
You can probably surmise that what Patterson actually meant was that the Wildcats, figuratively speaking, got their lunch money stolen and/or their heads handed to them in those previous games, 76-41 and 70-41 losses. Those defensive schemes fell short because they not only didn't really slow Griner, but they allowed the rest of the Baylor team to hurt K-State too much.
"Our thought was, 'Let's do the best we can to push her out,'" Patterson said of Friday's philosophy. "Let's be accountable on our rebound numbers. I thought the first half swung with Baylor's defense. The simple thing to see is Griner scoring points."
Actually, Patterson is right. Obscured by Griner's gusher of points was that Friday was another highlight video of the many ways she controls a game defensively. She's helped by the length and quickness of Baylor's perimeter players and the bulldog mentality of fellow post player Destiny Williams.
Williams, a redshirt junior, had 12 points and 14 rebounds on Friday -- one of her usual quiet, workhorse games. Afterward, she summed up what Griner means to Baylor.
"She can pass; she has great eyes," Williams said. "She blocked shots from behind, from the front. She can finish. She can rebound. She does it all."
Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at email@example.com. Read her blog at mechellevoepelblog.com.
Kansas State really didn't play badly in Friday's Big 12 tournament semifinals. The Wildcats, like so many other teams this season, just ran into Brittney Griner.