- Mechelle Voepel, espnW.com
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WACO, Texas -- Prairie View A&M is less than three hours down the road from Baylor, so a good-sized crowd of purple-clad people were at the Ferrell Center on Sunday to cheer for the Panthers. They were vastly outnumbered by the green-and-gold folks, but they gave it their all.
At one point in the second half, Prairie View's LaReahn Washington -- all 5 feet, 8 inches of her -- was about to inbound the ball while guarded by Baylor center Brittney Griner -- who is a full foot taller.
"Ignore her, LaReahn!" came a helpful cry from the Prairie View fans.
Oh, sure. You wouldn't have blamed Washington if she'd cracked up laughing at that. Because there is no ignoring Griner. She led the way in an 82-40 NCAA tournament first-round victory with 33 points, 10 rebounds and six blocked shots.
The reigning national player of the year appeared in her penultimate game here on the court that has been her home the past four seasons. Tuesday, she'll officially say goodbye to this arena in Baylor's NCAA second-round game against Florida State (ESPN2, 9:35 p.m. ET) in the Oklahoma City Regional.
You can tell the Baylor fans are savoring every moment they have left with Griner and her fellow seniors. Most of the 9,540 spectators actually stayed put until the end of Baylor's blowout.
This was the kind of game in which the Lady Bears basically could have picked whatever score they wanted. What the spectators wanted, of course, was a Griner dunk. They got it at the 15:58 mark of the second half: a one-handed slam after she got the ball underneath the basket.
"I caught it and pivoted around and dunked it," Griner said. "When I saw my defender was kind of high up on my side, I knew I was going to attempt it."
Expert Griner-watchers gave this slam very high marks.
"That's my all-time favorite dunk of hers," senior teammate Destiny Williams said. "Because that one was powerful; I think it was more personal than the other dunks. The rim had a little shake to it after that, which means she put some power into it.
"I'm happy for her. I think we need to see more of that. I've seen all her dunks; now I want to see her dunk on somebody, and then I'll be satisfied."
Williams grinned as she said that, but that would be the next step, one presumes, in the Griner dunk show.
Asked if she thought this was one of Griner's better dunks, Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said, "They're all good. They're always special. But yeah, it was almost like a reverse wasn't it? I hope she gets one every game. That's her athleticism. I guess to fans and to media, that may be one of her better dunks. But to us that see her every day, we want to see a windmill. We want to see a 360 [degree turn]."
Maybe that will happen in the WNBA. For the NCAA tournament, this one was pretty darned great. Odyssey Sims, who threw the pass to Griner, wasn't even sure she'd catch it.
"I overthrew it," said Sims, who had 10 assists and no turnovers to go with 12 points. "I didn't think she was going to dunk it. It surprised me. It's always great to see it when she dunks."
The crowd erupted; it was Griner's 15th dunk of her Baylor career, and the fifth here at home. The dunk came 27 seconds after she'd been called for a foul on the other end. She'd battled scrappy Panther Latia Williams, who is 5-foot-10, for a rebound and got the whistle.
"Boo!" howled the Baylor fans, certain their big girl had been wronged. They're pretty much always certain of that, though. However, in this game, the Baylor faithful had very few chances to engage in that favorite fan pastime of screaming at the officials. Baylor was called for a grand total of three fouls.
For the whole game.
"I asked the ref; he told me he's had that before," Panthers coach Toyelle Wilson said about a game in which a team committed just three fouls. "I said, 'Really? Was it Baylor?' He said, 'No.' I stopped the [conversation] after that."
Wilson, grinning, then added, "It's hard for the refs, too, because if you don't attack the basket I thought we had a couple of body-contact fouls that we didn't get. But [we] didn't go in there much with Brittney in there. That's neither here nor there, though. If the fouls were even, I don't know if it would have been a close score, either."
Give Prairie View credit. The Panthers won eight consecutive games coming into the NCAA tournament, including the NCAA bid-clincher in the SWAC final. That was an epic four-overtime win against Mississippi Valley State. The Panthers knew they had an impossible task on Sunday with No. 1 Baylor, but they still played hard. Wilson told them to be proud of their accomplishments and to enjoy themselves.
Which they did. The Prairie View players admitted they might have been a tad "starstruck" after Griner dunked. Prairie View had brought a 6-foot-8 man in to practice, but acknowledged that still didn't prepare them for how good Griner is.
"Her wing span is amazing," Prairie View's Williams said. "She's an amazing athlete. She's cool. It was a great experience. We had fun."
And, Baylor, as expected, moved on to face the No. 8 seed Seminoles, who beat Princeton 60-44 earlier. Mulkey said she was pleased to see her team wasn't blasé about its first-round game but was instead upbeat and energetic. And that energy level definitely elevated after the Griner dunk.
"I think we were excited to play, but we knew what we needed to do," Griner said. "We'll be more excited if we get to New Orleans."
14dBonnie D. Ford