Top-seeded Baylor rolled through the Des Moines Regional with such ease that the only stress the Bears had to endure was a late-game scuffle with Tennessee that saw Brittney Griner ejected.
Baylor can breathe easy knowing Griner won’t be suspended for the Final Four.
The Lady Vols have much more to worry about in the weeks ahead.
Griner had 23 points, 15 rebounds and nine blocks before being bounced with less than a minute left for leaving the bench and Baylor pounded Tennessee 77-58 Monday night to advance to the Final Four in the NCAA women’s college basketball tournament .
The Lady Bears (38-0) are back in the national semifinals for the second time in three years and will face Stanford on Sunday night in Denver.
“Definitely happy that we got past this game. It’s not over,” Griner said. “It gets tougher as you go.”
Should Baylor win it all, it’ll become the first men’s or women’s team in NCAA history to finish a year with 40 wins. The powerhouse Bears are the heavy favorites to do just that, having dispatched of Georgia Tech and Tennessee by an average of 17 points.
Neither of those games ever seemed that close, either.
“We’re so happy, but you can’t relax,” Baylor’s Destiny Williams said. “We have two more games left.”
Jubilation was the last thing on the minds of Tennessee (27-9), whose seniors became its first four-year Lady Vols class not to reach a Final Four.
But that was just a side note considering that their legendary coach Pat Summitt has yet to say if she’ll return for a 39th season. She announced in August she’d been diagnosed with early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type.
“This team is about Pat Summitt. This team has battled all year,” said Tennessee associate head coach Holly Warlick as she fought back tears. “I’m proud of them. I thought our team and coaching staff obviously was in a difficult situation. But I thought this team was responsive. I wouldn’t trade anything that we did this year.”
Baylor held Tennessee to just 30.3 percent shooting from the floor. Much of that was because of the inside presence of the 6-foot-8 Griner, who was just one block shy of her fifth career triple-double.
“Defense wins ballgames for you,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. “I guess I learned from two of the best. I learned from (Summitt) and (former Louisiana Tech coach) Leon Barmore, you better guard people. And these kids are going to guard you.”
A rather ugly game from a purist’s perspective got even uglier in the final 46.8 seconds.
Baylor’s Odyssey Sims, who led the Bears with 27 points, tumbled to the floor, and she and Tennessee’s Shekinna Stricklen had to be separated and were each assessed a technical foul for unsportsmanlike conduct.
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.
“She just took it the wrong way. We had a little talking back and forth,” Stricklen said about Sims.