Brittney Griner vividly remembers her last trip to Connecticut in two simple words: free throws.
As a sophomore, Griner had a miserable time at the line, missing eight foul shots _ including a few key ones down the stretch _ in Baylor’s one-point loss.
The 6-foot-8 star can’t wait for Monday night and a chance at redemption when the top-ranked Lady Bears (24-1) visit No. 3 UConn in a late-season, nonconference clash that could be a preview of the NCAA championship game in April.
“I hope I get fouled on the first play so I can shoot some free throws,” said Griner, a career 75 percent free throw shooter.
Griner got a measure of revenge last season when Baylor beat UConn 66-61 at home, rallying from an 11-point deficit in the second half behind its All-America center. Griner is looking forward to another shot at UConn, the only team she has a losing record against.
“I’m excited. It’s a big game,” said Griner, who is 25 points short of becoming the eighth player to reach 3,000 in her career. “I know they’re going to have a great crowd. The last time we went up there, they had a great turnout. It’s a great atmosphere to play a big game.”
Neither coach wants to put too much emphasis on Monday’s game, knowing there will be a lot more at stake if they meet again in the NCAA tournament.
“It’s good for women’s basketball. It’s good for television,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. “I’m ready for next Saturday. I’m ready to celebrate a Big 12 championship. If we go to UConn and we win, it’s great. You’re supposed to win. You’re the No. 1 team in the country. And if you lose, what have we lost? Nothing.”
“It’s not ideal in the middle of February,” Auriemma said. “I think by now you’d like to just kind of be in a rhythm. But I think it’s good for your younger guys to see this is what potentially it could look like in March. So in that respect I think it’s pretty good.
“It’s a game that really doesn’t affect your ability to win a championship. Every conference game has an impact on whether you win the Big East regular-season championship or not. This game doesn’t. And I think any time you can do that, to just play a game that’s kind of a preview of the kind of game you hope to play in March, I think it’s always good.”
UConn (24-1) is coming off a 20-point win over Rutgers on Saturday. Playing two tough games in 48 hours will be a challenge.
“The Big East thinks we’re Superman. We can play at Rutgers Saturday, then have to play Baylor on Monday because we’re better than everyone else, we can handle that,” Auriemma said with more than a hint of sarcasm. “That’s what happens in the NCAA tournament. You play a tough game on a Saturday or Sunday and then play another one two days later. They’ve helped us over the years and they’ll help us this year.”
Baylor also played on Saturday, blowing out TCU 78-45.
Auriemma hopes that Bria Hartley is feeling better. She played only 4 minutes against Rutgers because she was ill.