KINGSTON, R.I. (AP) - Brittney Griner and Baylor are two wins from a perfect season.
Still, it won’t be easy for the Lady Bears to become the seventh women’s team to go undefeated. They’ll have to get past two other No. 1 seeds at the Final Four in Denver _ Stanford and either Notre Dame or Connecticut. It’s the first time since 1989 that all four top seeds reached the semifinals of the NCAA tournament.
No real surprise, though, because the Lady Bears, Cardinal, Irish and Huskies have dominated all year long. They’ve held the top four spots in The Associated Press poll virtually all season and have combined to lose only twice to anyone but themselves.
“I think in the beginning of the year, everybody said, `Here are the four No. 1 seeds,’” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “In November and December they were talking about it. And I think for all four teams to manage those expectations was really very challenging. So we’re just thankful we have the maturity and the experience to handle that.”
Even the four No. 2 seeds posed no problem in the regional finals as all four of the top teams won by double digits.
“If you’re a No. 1 seed there’s a reason you’re a No. 1 seed,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “What you have in our situation, you have to beat the best teams in the end of the year because they don’t get beat by the lesser teams.”
The pressure of playing on the national stage in Denver shouldn’t bother any of them, either. After all, Stanford, Notre Dame and UConn were in the Final Four last season. Baylor was there two years ago.
Stanford and Connecticut have reached five straight Final Fours _ matching the Huskies’ mark from 2000-04 and LSU from 2004-08.
Should the Lady Bears win it all, they will become the first men’s or women’s team in NCAA history to finish a season with 40 wins.
“It wasn’t a goal of ours, but now it has to be because these kids want to win a championship,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. “I don’t know about the history of the game. You have to remember, we really don’t talk about the old days. … I just look at it as another number. I don’t know that the kids look at it any differently. They won’t look at 40 wins, but they sure will remember that national championship.”
Baylor advanced to the national semifinals by easily beating Tennessee 77-58 on Monday night as Griner continued to be the most dominant player in women’s basketball. She had 23 points, 15 rebounds and nine blocks _ falling one short of a triple-double.
“It’s not over. We’ve got our next game and it gets tougher as you go. We have to focus and get ready for our next game,” Griner said.
That game will be against Stanford, the only one of the teams left that Baylor hasn’t beaten this season. The Cardinal have won a school-record 32 straight and are trying to end a 20-year championship drought.
Stanford has been led by its own superstar, Nnemkadi Ogwumike. She had 39 points in the regional semifinal win over South Carolina and followed that up with 29 points in the Fresno Regional final against Duke.
“She has put our team on her back almost all year,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. “Coaching her is something really special. We just want to keep it going. I don’t want any game to be her last game.”