Baylor's Griner closes in on two records
Also: A-Sun foes clash; Michigan State continues tough stretch
There isn’t any doubt that Baylor’s Brittney Griner has left her mark in women’s college basketball as one of the greatest to ever play the game.
But, this weekend, the 6-foot-8 Griner is within reach of etching her name into the NCAA and Big 12 Conference record books two more times.
When the top-ranked Lady Bears play host to No. 20 Oklahoma on Saturday, Griner needs just seven blocks to eclipse the NCAA career record of 663 held by Louella Tominson of St. Mary’s (Calif.). Tomlinson accomplished the feat in 125 games in a four-year career (2008-11). Griner currently stands at 657 blocks for her career.
Griner, who has led the defending NCAA champion Lady Bears to a 17-1 record two-thirds of the way through the season, still has 11 regular-season games left on the schedule to achieve the title as the undisputed “Queen of Swat.” She already owns the NCAA season record for most blocks per game with 6.4 after totaling 223 in 35 games in 2010, and she already is the first player to have scored 2,000 points and blocked 500 shots in NCAA history.
With her average of 3.2 blocks per contest this season, Griner may be behind her own personal pace, but during the past couple games she has stepped up the swats. On Jan. 19, Griner blocked a season-high nine shots in a victory against West Virginia, and followed that with six blocks in the Lady Bears’ defeat of Iowa State on Wednesday.
“I really don’t pay attention to those things, but blocked shots are my favorite part of the game so I look every now and again,” Griner said.
Griner also will be attempting to become the Big 12’s all-time scoring leader against the Sooners on Saturday. With 2,818 career points, she needs just 18 to claim the title. Griner is averaging 21.8 points per game, which ranks ninth nationally, and has scored in double figures in 98 consecutive games, including 22 points against Iowa State on Wednesday. If she keeps up the pace, she will be on track to become only the ninth player in women’s basketball history to score 3,000 points.
Fans can catch Griner and the Lady Bears live on FSN at noon ET Saturday in what could be a history-making game for the Preseason National Player of the Year. Baylor also will be looking to stretch its 29-game winning streak against Big 12 foes.
• The No. 16 Oregon men’s basketball team has started conference play with a 6-0 record for the first time since the 1925-26 season after rallying from a 10-point halftime deficit to defeat Washington State 68-61 on Wednesday. The Ducks will look to improve to 7-0 in Pac-12 action when they play host to Washington on Saturday. Oregon has won eight consecutive games, and 12 of its past 13. The Ducks also will be seeking to stretch their 19-game home winning streak against the Huskies in a 7 p.m. ET tipoff that will air live on the Pac-12 Networks.
• There will be a tussle at the top of the Big Ten standings when No. 7 Indiana visits No. 13 Michigan State at 1 p.m. ET Sunday, in a nationally televised game on CBS. The Spartans are in first place with a 6-1 mark, but are in the midst of a stretch against formidable foes. Beginning with the game against then-No. 11 Ohio State on Jan. 19, MSU will face seven opponents currently ranked in The Associated Press Top 25 in a span of 11 games. Indiana is coming off a 72-49 rout of Penn State on Wednesday, and is 5-1 in league play.
• The Atlantic Sun Conference features a clash between two undefeated league teams as Stetson travels to Florida Gulf Coast for a 7:05 p.m. ET tipoff on Saturday. Both squads are 8-0, and boast lengthy winning streaks. Stetson rides an 11-game streak into the contest, while FGCU has won nine consecutive entering the game. The Hatters will be looking to snap FGCU’s conference 26-game winning streak -- the nation’s second-longest behind Baylor’s 29-game, Big 12 winning stretch.
• The Western Collegiate Hockey Association features another crucial series on its men’s hockey slate this weekend as No. 5 North Dakota plays host to No. 15 St. Cloud State, which currently is tied for first place in the league standings with No. 1 Minnesota. SCSU moved into first place after sweeping then-No. 7 Denver last weekend. The Huskies are the first team to sweep the Pioneers in a WCHA series since 2008. North Dakota trails closely, just two points behind the league leaders.
SCSU senior Drew LeBlanc leads the nation with a career-high 27 assists, and is riding a 13-game point streak into the weekend. UND senior center Corban Knight enters the series on a 19-game point streak, and has contributed nine goals and 22 assists during the stretch.
• The top-ranked Minnesota women’s hockey team heads to No. 8 Wisconsin on Friday for a series between nationally ranked WCHA rivals. The Golden Gophers carry an NCAA-record 32-game unbeaten streak into the weekend. Minnesota shares the mark with Wisconsin, which the Badgers have achieved twice (2006-07 and 2010-11). Wisconsin’s most recent 32-game unbeaten streak was snapped by the Gophers on Oct. 14, 2011. Now, the Badgers have the chance to return the favor. Wisconsin is 0-5-1 against Minnesota in the past six games of the series. Both games will face off at 3 p.m. ET, on Friday and Sunday at LeBahn Arena.
• No. 1 Metro State is off to its best start in school history at 15-0, but the Roadrunners will have a tough test on their hands when they travel to Colorado Mesa on Friday as they embark on a four-game road stretch. The Mavericks enter the contest on a five-game winning streak, are tied for third place in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference and are receiving votes in the latest rankings. Colorado Mesa also is 7-0 at home this season. It is the first time this season Metro State holds the No. 1 spot in the poll. The Roadrunners are one of three unbeaten squads remaining in Division II men’s basketball, joining No. 2 Western Washington and No. 3 Kentucky Wesleyan.
• Less than a month ago, the Concordia-St. Paul women’s basketball squad pulled off a pair of upsets on back-to-back nights, snapping then-No. 19 Wayne State’s 52-game home winning streak and knocking off then-No.5 Augustana (S.D.) the next night. Concordia plays host to No. 8 Augustana on Friday and WSC on Saturday in rematches that are critical to the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference South Division race. The Cobbers have won eight of their past nine games, and are 3-0 against ranked teams during the stretch. They are one game behind the Augies in the division standings.
• After splitting a home series against UW-Stout last weekend, No. 2 St. Norbert finds itself tied for first place with No. 6 UW-Eau Claire in the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association. UW-Eau Claire swept UW-Superior last weekend to increase its points total to 19 and slide into first place. Earlier this season, the Blugolds took three points from St. Norbert with a 5-3 win and a 3-3 tie. However, history is on the Green Knights’ side in this series; St. Norbert leads the all-time series 44-5-4.
• One of the biggest rivalries in Division I wrestling will be on display on Saturday as No. 3 Minnesota plays host to No. 4 Iowa for a conference match that will be broadcast live on the Big Ten Network at 4 p.m. ET. Iowa and Minnesota each boast nine ranked wrestlers in their respective lineups. The Hawkeyes have four wrestlers ranked in the top five, while the Gophers have three. Last year, the teams split a pair of meetings, but Iowa leads the overall series 69-25-1.
One of the highlight bouts at heavyweight features Iowa sophomore Bobby Telford, ranked fifth nationally, and Minnesota’s No. 2 Tony Nelson in a rematch of last year’s 285-pound Big Ten championship. Nelson won the match 2-0.
• The No. 3 Stanford men’s gymnastics team heads to No. 2 Michigan’s Cliff Keen Arena at 7 p.m. ET Saturday for a dual meet between two of the nation’s top squads. Both teams boast all-around gymnasts ranked in the top four in the nation. Stanford senior Eddie Penev, the second-ranked all-arounder, is coming off a title at the four-team Stanford Open where the Cardinal competed against Top 10 foes Oklahoma, California and Nebraska. Michigan will try and match Penev with sophomore Adrian de los Angeles, who claimed the all-around title at the season-opening Windy City Invitational last week.
• The Michigan women’s gymnastics team is off to its best start in program history, averaging 196.941 through three competitions, and improving its score in each meet. The Wolverines’ score of 197.350 against Illinois on Jan. 19 is the team’s highest score since 2008, and has them ranked No. 1 for the second time in three weeks. Prior to this season, Michigan’s only appearance in the No. 1 spot was during the 2000 season.
The rise to the top is quite a turnaround upon last season. In 2012, Michigan’s team was made up of 11 gymnasts and no seniors, and the squad suffered through several injuries that contributed to a fourth-place finish in the Big Ten, which ended a streak of five consecutive league titles. The Wolverines also finished in third place at the Auburn Regional, and did not advance to the NCAA Championships.
“It's the fourth week of the season and being No. 1 doesn't really mean anything, but it sure beats not being No. 1,” Michigan head coach Bev Plocki said. “That's fun and exciting. The energy level is great, and the confidence is nothing but positive. What makes me happiest is when I hear comments from fans at the competition about how our team looks confident and positive. If it's showing that much to spectators, then I know it's for real.”
Michigan returns to action on Saturday as the Wolverines compete in a quad meet against No. 12 Minnesota, No. 20 Central Michigan and Iowa State at the Sports Pavilion in Minneapolis.
• Saint John’s (Minn.) men’s basketball head coach Jim Smith notched his 750th career victory Monday as the Johnnies defeated Carleton 73-66 in Collegeville, Minn. Smith is the 19th coach in college basketball history -- all NCAA divisions -- to reach the 750-win plateau. He has posted a 750-531 record in 49 seasons at SJU.
While 49 seasons may seem like a long time, Smith has some catching up to do if he’s going to match recently retired football head coach John Gagliardi’s tenure of 60 years at the school. Gagliardi, who coached college football for 64 years, compiled a 489-138-11 (.775) mark during his career and is the all-time winningest college football coach.
The Johnnies carry a five-game winning streak into a Saturday tilt against Gustavus Adolphus.
• The 900-win watch has begun for North Carolina women’s basketball head coach Sylvia Hatchell, who enters Thursday’s contest against No. 10 Maryland with 897 career victories. Hatchell is looking to become just the third NCAA women’s basketball head coach to reach the 900-win milestone. Former Tennessee head coach Pat Summit (1,098 wins) and former Texas head coach Jody Conradt (900) are the only other members of the elite group.
Follow Amy Farnum on Twitter: @NCAA_Amy