Griner one block short of a triple-double as Baylor makes second Final Four
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Baylor's youth nearly cost the Lady Bears a trip to Final Four, and ended up saving the day.
Phenomenal freshman Brittney Griner caught a pass, spun around and hit a short jumper with 45 seconds left to propel fourth-seeded Baylor to a 51-48 win over No. 2 seed Duke on Monday night for its second trip ever to the Final Four.
"I knew we needed that bucket so I did everything I could to get position and to have [the defender] pinned behind me and step through and go up strong," Griner said.
The 6-foot-8 Griner and her teammates hoisted Kim Mulkey onto their shoulders so the coach could cut down the net. Mulkey led the Lady Bears to their only other appearance in the national semifinals in 2005 en route to the national championship.
"I've never had players tall enough to lift me to cut the net so that's a first," Mulkey said.
Baylor's men's team lost to Duke 78-71 on Sunday in the South Regional final. It was the first time ever that there had been the same regional final matchup in both brackets since the women's tournament began during the 1981-82 season, according to STATS LLC.
Duke led the entire second half until Griner's basket and by as much as 10 points -- enough for freshman Jordan Madden to start longing for the bench.
"I really didn't want to be out there because I didn't want to make a mistake and turn the ball over or foul and let them shoot free throws," Madden said.
The Blue Devils held a 46-38 advantage with 4:59 left before a pair of free throws by Kimetria Hayden launched a 13-2 run for the Lady Bears (27-9).
Krystal Thomas spent 26 minutes guarding Griner in the paint before fouling out with 2:17 left. That cleared the way for Griner, who hit the game-winning shot over Cheek's extended arm.
"When Krystal Thomas was fouled out, that's the game. That's the story. That's it," Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said. "If you take our best 6-4 player out of the game for the last three minutes, it changes the game enormously. And they took advantage."
Hayden, also a freshman, made a pair of free throws and stole the following inbounds pass by Cheek, dishing it to Melissa Jones for a layup with 2:10 left that pulled the Lady Bears within one. Jones, who finished with 10 points, also hit a pair of free throws with 26 seconds left, forcing Duke (30-6) to scramble.
A fired-up Mulkey sat Griner for 20 seconds early in the second half because she wasn't playing aggressively enough and spent a timeout after Hayden's two free throws yelling at Hayden and fellow freshman Shanay Washington for their lack of effort in rebounding.
"Dang if the kid doesn't come back and make the play of the game under the basket pressing," Mulkey said of Hayden's steal. "It's what you get with freshmen. You get the good and you get the bad."
Two 3-point attempts by Cheek in the last 17 seconds bounced off the rim as the Blue Devils missed their last nine shots and a chance at their first Final Four since 2006.
Griner just missed her third triple-double of the season, finishing with 15 points, 11 rebounds and nine blocks.
Both teams struggled early. Duke missed its first 10 shots from the floor, but Baylor only held a 7-1 lead 5½ minutes into the game.
"When you have somebody in the paint with shot-blocking ability like that, it can make it difficult for you to take the shots you want to take," Cheek said.
The game was every bit the defensive battle that was expected, with Baylor shooting 27.6 percent and Duke 24.2 percent in the first half. The Lady Bears have held each of their opponents in the NCAA tournament to under 35 percent shooting.
Griner, who blocked 14 shots in the second round against Georgetown to set an NCAA tournament single-game record, has 35 through four tournament games. That broke the previous record of 30 by Duke's Alison Bales in 2006.
The Blue Devils have had plenty of experience with slow starts, trailing early in nine of their last 10 games. They slowly warmed up on offense and took a 16-15 lead on a putback layup from Bridgette Mitchell with 6:04 left before halftime.
Karima Christmas scored six straight points in the last 1:30 of the first half to give Duke a 26-21 lead at the break. Christmas finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds.
Duke shot a season-worst 23.1 percent for the game, and for once the Blue Devils weren't able to generate points through their offense with Baylor handling the pressure.
The Blue Devils entered the game ranked second in the nation with an average 13.3 steals per contest and had 23 against San Diego State in the regional semifinals but logged only six, ending their streak of 10 straight games with 10 or more thefts.
Duke has thrived off low-scoring games this season. It was the 23rd time the Blue Devils held an opponent to 60 or fewer points but only the first time they'd lost when doing so.
"We did the best we could with what we had," McCallie said. "Our kids were great. Our team fought very, very hard. They shouldn't be hard on themselves at all."