DES MOINES, Iowa — Baylor has just two wins to go for 40-0. Tennessee’s future is far less certain.
Brittney Griner had 23 points, 15 rebounds and nine blocks before being ejected with less than a minute left and top-seeded Baylor rolled against Tennessee 77-58 Monday night to advance to the Final Four.
Shekinna Stricklen had 22 points for Tennessee (27-9), whose seniors became its first four-year class not to reach a Final Four.
The second-seeded Lady Vols now face an uncertain future, as Pat Summitt has yet to say if she’ll return for a 39th season as Tennessee coach. She announced in August she’d been diagnosed with early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type.
The Lady Bears (38-0), who are back in the national semifinals for the second time in three years, will face either Stanford or Duke on Sunday night in Denver.
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Baylor’s Odyssey Sims, who led the Bears with 27 points, tumbled to the floor with 46.8 seconds left, and she and Strickland had to be separated. No punches were thrown, but Griner and teammates Terran Condrey and Jordan Madden were ejected for leaving the bench.
The NCAA says none of the players will be suspended for the Final Four.
Should Baylor win it all next week, it’ll become the first men’s or women’s team in NCAA history to finish a year with 40 wins.
As for Summitt, she was given a standing ovation from Tennessee and Baylor fans alike when she came out roughly 15 minutes before tipoff. But as defeat became apparent, she sat silently on the bench with her legs crossed.
Summitt has 1,098 wins, more than any basketball coach in NCAA history.
But Baylor was too much for her Lady Vols.
Like most of Baylor’s games this season, the Bears regional semifinal was more about dominance than drama — until a scrum in the final minute.
Baylor led 35-20 at halftime despite a poor start shooting from Griner. Tennessee made a spirited charge to start the second half, highlighted when Glory Johnson scored a second-chance bucket on Griner and simply smiled when Griner tossed her to the floor.
But the Bears are unbeaten because they’re much more than Griner.
Sims followed a layup through traffic with a 3, to help Bears go back ahead 49-38 with 11:12 to go. Tennessee made one final run, cutting a 19-point deficit to 64-53 with 4:48 left, but Griner finished off the Lady Vols with six points in the next minute.
Johnson had 19 points and 14 rebounds for Tennessee, which had a habit of starting poorly.
But the Lady Vols were ready for this one — at least for the first few minutes.
Tennessee double-teamed Griner with center Vicki Baugh and help defenders, and Griner hit just three of 10 shots in the first half. But the Lady Vols missed nine shots in a row after an early lead, and Baylor slowly built its edge to 26-16 on three consecutive buckets by Sims and a 3 from Hayden.
Baylor’s lead grew to 35-20 in Johnson’s absence, as Tennessee shot an abysmal 22.9 percent in the first half.
The Lady Vols hung close with Baylor in late November before losing 76-67. The rematch wasn’t nearly as close, sending the Bears onto Denver and Tennessee grappling with the possibility that Summitt’s career is finished after 38 seasons and eight national titles.