Baylor caps perfect 40-0 season
DENVER -- A look at Baylor's 80-61 victory over Notre Dame in Tuesday's national championship game at the Pepsi Center. The Lady Bears won their second NCAA title. They also won in 2005.
HOW THE GAME WAS WON: Baylor's physical dominance was just too much for Notre Dame. Brittney Griner's size really showed up in the second half. Baylor was able to get her the ball, and no one on Notre Dame could contest anything the 6-foot-8 junior wanted to do after that. But Griner was only part of it. The Lady Bears dominated on the boards 46-27, simply because they were bigger. That size difference also put Notre Dame bigs Devereaux Peters and Natalie Achonwa in foul trouble the entire game. That took away a big part of Notre Dame's strategy and its high-post offense, which the Irish presumably were counting on to give them a chance to keep Griner away from the basket. Instead, it was never a factor. Baylor pulled away in the second half, and its 40-0 national championship season -- the first for men's or women's college basketball -- finished without a tense moment.
PLAYER OF THE GAME: Griner. In the first half, her presence was a big factor. In the second, it was simply her offense that took center stage. She scored Baylor's first three baskets on almost identical plays, catching it on the left block and turning over her left shoulder for an easy bank off the glass. That dominance continued the rest of the way. She scored 15 of her 26 points after halftime and finished with 13 rebounds. Griner was every bit the dominant player she has been described as throughout this Final Four.
PLAYER OF THE GAME 2: Jordan Madden and Kimetria Hayden. Little of their efforts will show up in the box score, but they took turns guarding Natalie Novosel all night, and the Notre Dame senior had one of the most forgettable nights of her career. Novosel failed to make a field goal, shooting 0-for-11 and ending her career scoring just five points. She scored 28 when the teams met in November. Even the few open looks she got looked rushed, and without their second-leading scorer being a factor, the Irish had too much to overcome.
PLAYER OF THE GAME 3: Skylar Diggins. Considering that the junior point guard got little offensive help from running mates Novosel and Brittany Mallory, Diggins played well. She scored a team-best 20 points on 7-of-17 shooting and didn't turn over the ball once.
TURNING POINT: Devereaux Peters' foul trouble killed Notre Dame all night, but nothing turned the game like her fourth foul just five minutes into the second half. The Irish had crept to within 42-39 and had the ball. Peters leaned in to set a screen on Hayden and was whistled for a foul. Peters, who had been back in the game for only 2½ minutes, had to go back to the bench. The 3-pointers Odyssey Sims hit on the ensuing possession ruined the Notre Dame momentum, and the Irish never got closer than four the rest of the way. With Peters out, Baylor outscored Notre Dame 19-11, effectively ending the game.
STAT OF THE GAME: The biggest indication of Baylor's dominance other than the scoreboard was in the rebounding numbers. Baylor outrebounded the Irish 46-27, building on what it had done in the opening 20 minutes. Notre Dame's offensive execution in the early stages of the second half was pretty good, but it couldn't overcome Baylor's second chances and the lack of such for the Irish. Clearly, this was biggest difference between these two teams, considered the two best in the country most of the season. In their first meeting, a 94-81 win for the Lady Bears in November, Baylor also held a substantial 52-37 edge on the glass.
STAT OF THE GAME 2: Novosel's struggles from the field were just the most notable of Notre Dame's shooting woes all night. The Irish were a 47.1 percent shooting team during the season, good for fourth in the country. On Tuesday, Notre Dame shot a meager 35.5 percent. Combine that with the rebounding differential, and it's not hard to figure why Baylor captured its second national championship in seven years.
STAT OF THE GAME 3: Notre Dame reserve Markisha Wright played 19 minutes, four more than Peters. Nothing could be more telling of what kind of night it was for Notre Dame. In the semifinal win over Connecticut, Achonwa was the only reserve Muffet McGraw used. On Tuesday, foul trouble forced her to use players who haven't been contributors. In fact, Wright's 19 minutes exceeded what she had combined to play in Notre Dame's other five NCAA tournament games.
FINAL X FACTOR: Griner is the difference in most games in which she plays, and Tuesday night was no different. She dominated, especially in the second half because she was finally able to get touches down low and Notre Dame had no one to contest her shot attempts. She made eight of her nine shots after halftime, and with each one, Notre Dame's confidence level dropped.
First-half analysis: Baylor 34, Notre Dame 28
HOW THE HALF WAS WON: Baylor was just physically better than the Irish in the first half. The Lady Bears made the Irish work for everything they did. Baylor got to the line 11 times to Notre Dame's six and outrebounded the Irish 25-17. Baylor is bigger than Notre Dame and used that to its advantage well in the first half.
PLAYER OF THE HALF: Brittney Griner. Once again, it wasn't a great Griner performance, but she occupied enough of the Irish's attention to allow some of the other Lady Bears, such as Destiny Williams (3-for-4 shooting for eight points) and Brooklyn Pope (2-for-3 shooting for six points), to get free near the basket. Griner finished with a team-high nine points and eight rebounds.
PLAYER OF THE HALF 2: Skylar Diggins. Despite playing most of the first half with a sense of frustration and being harassed by Odyssey Sims, Diggins had an Irish-best nine points on 4-of-7 shooting. She also didn't turn over the ball. Her scoring became even more important because Natalie Novosel had only three points, all from the line.
TURNING POINT: When Devereaux Peters picked up her second foul at the 17:22 mark, Notre Dame had to change its defensive approach. Coach Muffet McGraw went to a zone the rest of the half. Baylor didn't explode immediately after Peters' exit from the game, but during the nearly seven minutes she was out, Baylor took its biggest lead, 27-15.