Baylor 'loaded at every position'
Griner's supporting cast looks to lock up national title
DENVER -- Baylor's Brittney Griner has drawn a lot of attention to women's basketball this season and deservedly so. The 6-foot-8-inch sensation undoubtedly throws a wrench in an opponent's usual game plan as they try to figure out different ways of defending the National Player of the Year candidate.
Griner's a double-double machine who plays above the rim and blocks a ton of shots thanks to an unbelievable vertical reach. She even thrills fans with her dunks.
But Griner will not be playing for an NCAA title by herself at the 2012 NCAA Women's Final Four in Denver. She has an amazing supporting cast who are also worthy of a little praise and admiration.
"It's frustrating because the people who continue to write that just see a 6' 8" phenom that plays above the rim and they only watch the game casually," Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey said. "If you follow our team and you're really into women's basketball you quickly know, wow, that team's loaded at every position."
Joining Griner in Baylor's starting five are sophomore point guard Odyssey Sims, junior guard Kimetria "Nae-Nae" Hayden, junior guard Jordan Madden and junior forward Destiny Williams.
"Baylor is a lot more than just Brittney Griner," Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer said. "They have Odyssey Sims, Nae Nae Hayden. They have perimeter shooters, rebounders, they have depth. They have a very experienced coach. So it's not one thing. It's probably many things. But that's what makes it so much fun and so exciting."
Griner is the first person to talk about how great her teammates are. When asked who her favorite player in collegiate women's basketball was right now, there was no hesitation in her answer. Odyssey Sims.
"The way she handles the ball … I'd be tired how she's running everywhere," Griner said. "It's amazing."
Sims, an Associated Press Second Team All-American, is averaging 14.8 points per game, but scoring 20.5 points per game against ranked opponents.
Then there's Williams, who gets after it on the boards, almost matching Griner with 9.2 rebounds per game. She was named to the Des Moines Regional All-Tournament Team, and has grabbed double-digit rebounds in 18 games this season.
"If I don't get a rebound, I know Destiny is in there fighting to get it," Griner said. "Between me and her, somebody's going get that board. When I'm seeing two and three people, she's cutting where I can find her."
"Destiny can rebound," Sims said. "She's going to beat you. Even if she doesn't have any points, she'll have double-digit rebounds. That's something a lot of people don't do."
Madden is the team's defensive stopper. Her contributions may not show up in the statistics, but they are certainly an integral part of Baylor's success.
"Jordan Madden job is to find the guard, the best player on the opposing team, and what a job she's done night in, night out and people don't talk about it," Mulkey said. "That kid has a six foot body. She has the wing span to alter shots on the perimeter. She makes it difficult, denying them ball."
"She's long so she can make players get a little aggravated by getting up and blocking their shots and defending their best player," Griner said. "She has the hardest job."
Hayden is averaging 10.8 points in NCAA postseason play, including an 18-point performance in Baylor's victory over Tennessee in the Elite Eight.
"Nae-Nae is going to drive and get in the lane, cut through the zone and get in the middle," Griner said. "She's going to find me. She's a great passer and she's always looking for me."
"Nae Nae Hayden quietly, like Destiny Williams, understands that all the attention may go to those other two on paper, but on that floor, they understand their value to our basketball team," Mulkey said. "I've said it months and months ago that if we're to win a national championship, it won't be because of Odyssey Sims and Brittney Griner, it will be because of Na Na Hayden and Jordan Madden."
So, yes, Griner is the one who will get noticed walking down the hallway in her Denver hotel. She is the one who will have fans clamoring for autographs and will be the one who gives Stanford headaches as the Cardinal tries to figure out how to defend the six-foot-eight post player. But VanDerveer knows Griner will not be Stanford's only problem during Sunday's second semifinal game.
"They give you so many puzzles to solve," VanDerveer said. "They're a great team without her. But with her they're spectacular. And when she's out there, she really brings out the best, I think, in all of her teammates."
"I love to say it and Coach loves to say it, 'It's not the Brittney Griner Show,'" Griner said. "There was a game when I didn't score until the second half, and we were perfectly fine. My teammates … I have all the confidence in the world in them. If I was on the bench, I'd have all the confidence in the world in them. That's one thing in this tournament that people are really seeing."