When Baylor beat Notre Dame in November in the WNIT women's championship, center Brittney Griner was the reason.
Griner, in fact, has largely been the reason for Baylor's unparalleled success this season: Its undefeated record, its spot in the national championship game, its position as the most feared team in college basketball.
And just like she led the Bears to victory in November, Griner will do it again on Tuesday night in the NCAA championship.
Skylar Diggins has been to Notre Dame what Griner has been to Baylor this season. Diggins, a junior guard, leads the team with 16.3 points and 5.8 assists per game, and during Notre Dame's 83-75 overtime victory over UConn in the Final Four, she hit two key three-pointers in the extra period en route to a 19-point performance.
In an 80-49 win over Maryland in the Elite Eight, she had a triple-double with 22 points, 11 assists, 10 rebounds—and five steals, to top it off.
Diggins' impact on the Irish is unquestionable. But Griner's impact on the Bears is unstoppable.
Griner is women's basketball's Anthony Davis. She nearly averages a double-double with 23.1 points and 9.4 rebounds per game, and she has her team poised to become the first in NCAA history—men's or women's—to register a 40-win season.
In their last meeting with the Bears, the Irish failed to do two things: stop Griner and score from beyond the arc. Both will be crucial in Tuesday night's game.
On November 20, Griner had 32 points and 14 rebounds for her 29th career double-double in Baylor's 94-81 win. In a No. 1 versus No. 2 matchup, Griner stepped up to the challenge and proved to be just as clutch as the Irish feared, hitting 14 of 18 shots from the field.
The Irish, meanwhile, went just 1-for-12 from three-point range, their only make coming as the buzzer sounded. Of the teams who almost came close to beating Baylor this season—meaning those who lost by single digits—three of them made at least seven three-pointers.
During the NCAA tournament, Griner is averaging 22.0 points, 9.2 rebounds and 5.2 blocks, and she currently holds the career-record for blocks in the tournament with 88.
Even if the Irish do find a way to eliminate Griner—a near impossibility—Baylor's Odyssey Sims still presents a challenge for her counterpoint in Diggins. On November 20, Sims had 26 points, six assists and just two turnovers, outplaying Diggins, who had 27 points, three assists and seven turnovers.
Notre Dame knows, in theory, what it must do to beat Griner and the Bears on Tuesday night. Whether they can do it is the question. Given the history—and especially the way Griner's playing—it seems like a long shot.
On Tuesday, Baylor will either be the first team to hit the 40-win mark, or it will be the first undefeated team to play in the championship game and lose.
Either way, get ready for the Bears to make history.
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