Category archive: Baylor Lady Bears

For years, the Academy Awards conflicted with March Madness, so it was great when the show moved to February. Sure, some folks think the Oscars are bloated and phony and over-the-top, and thus unwatchable. But … those are pretty much exactly the same reasons that I love to watch the show.

I've seen six of the Best Picture candidates, but nine are nominated, and I'm not going to get to all of them before Sunday. Or ever, in the case of "War Horse." Young man separated from his beloved horse, then both must go through the ravages of World War I? No thanks. I teared up enough at the reunited Muppets singing "Rainbow Connection" again.

So what does the Academy Awards show have to do with the coach of the year race in women's basketball? Nothing, really. It's just that the Oscars are Sunday, and I enjoy making these forced links to one of the few areas of pop culture in which I still attempt to stay current.

Perhaps I should connect a coaching award to the Best Director nominees. But there are only five of those, and I have six coach nominees. Plus, some of my forced links are just to movie titles, not actually to what the movie was about. I really couldn't cheat that same way with using the names of the directors.

So here we go, by alphabetical order, with the Best Picture candidate the nominee represents (if only in my own mind). Then at the end, the Oscar winner … er, my pick right now for coach of the year.

Geno Auriemma, Connecticut: "War Horse"

Geno AuriemmaAuriemma
Just because I won't see this movie doesn't mean I wouldn't vote for Auriemma. No matter what happens to UConn -- it has to face injuries and graduation the same way everybody does -- Auriemma's Huskies keep persevering, just like Joey the War Horse.

Auriemma lost a three-time Wade Trophy winner in Maya Moore to graduation. His top returning scorer was Tiffany Hayes (13.7 ppg last season), who never really had to fill a leadership role before.

He has needed to run a four-guard offense much of the time because of personnel, and that has required convincing 5-foot-11 Kelly Faris to play like she's about five inches taller. Because Auriemma is such a good maestro, he has been able to pull this off. Of course, it also has a lot to do with recruiting the type of player who will not balk at being placed out of her comfort zone.

Auriemma has a lot of talent, true. But who brought that talent there? How many teams could lose a player such as Moore, yet still have lost only three games going into late February and be on track for a No. 1 seed again?

Jim Crowley, St. Bonaventure: "Moneyball"

Jim CrowleyCrowley
This is the easiest link of all. Crowley really did read the book "Moneyball" by Michael Lewis about Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane; it subsequently was turned into a Brad Pitt movie.

The book helped inspire Crowley to develop the system that has the Bonnies currently at 26-2 overall and 13-0 in the Atlantic 10.

It's too simplistic to say Crowley's emphasis is on taking care of the ball. But limiting turnovers is one of the principal tenets for a program that's on its way to its first NCAA tournament berth. St. Bonaventure went to the WNIT last year.

The Bonnies now have won 20 games or more for four consecutive seasons, and this one is shaping up as the best of all in Crowley's 16 years at St. Bonaventure. He signed a contract extension this past summer to remain at the school through 2017.

Tina Martin, Delaware: "The Help"

Tina MartinMartin
You think you have no chance to sign the player who's not just best in your state, but possibly best in the country. She's off to "the" powerhouse up north. But guess what? She comes back home and starts playing on the volleyball team at your school.

You can barely contain yourself, but you don't pressure her at all. You want it to be so that when Elena Delle Donne does decide on her own to return to hoops, she will be comfortable with you and her new team.

Martin navigated that very well, along with balancing having a megatalent alongside the right kinds of players to "help" her.

You can't win with one player in basketball, no matter how good she is. Martin has put together the right mix of personalities, along with figuring out how best to maximize Delle Donne's ability, for the 25-1 Blue Hens.

Katie Meier, Miami: "The Descendants"

Katie MeierMeier
Meier played at Duke from 1985-90, having to miss a year rehabbing a knee injury. She then played overseas at a time when cellphones and email were still a few years away from being commonly used. So she experienced the slightly "older" era of women's basketball from which today's game has descended. But she also has a strong link to the present era as one of the still-rising stars in the coaching ranks.

She can trace her love and skill for basketball back to her late father, whom she never met, as he died in a plane crash four months before she was born. Gerry Meier played at DePaul, and those who knew him say his daughter looked and played a great deal like him.

Miami's rise under Meier has been fueled by guards Riquna Williams and Shenise Johnson, but they lost a major contributor when forward Morgan Stroman went down with an Achilles injury on Jan. 19. Even so, Meier has put the Hurricanes in position to potentially win the ACC.

Kim Mulkey, Baylor: "The Artist"

Kim MulkeyMulkey
I actually know some folks who don't really watch women's hoops at all, except to see Mulkey. For her interesting apparel, sure, but also for the demonstrative pantomime and facial expressions that make it seem as if she could have been on the silver screen, circa 1925.

Mulkey as a silent-movie star? Admittedly, it's hard to imagine her or any coach being totally quiet on the bench. But the actors in silent movies weren't necessarily "silent," either. Audiences just couldn't hear them.

Nobody ever has that problem with Mulkey, especially not referees. But even if you did mute the sound on your TV during a Baylor game, Mulkey would entertain you.

"The Artist" appears to be the Best Picture favorite, and it should be: It's got two lovable leading characters (three if you count the dog) who must go through various difficulties to be together. The most basic, simple movie plot ever? Yes, but this amazing, sweet -- and silent -- film makes it seem fresh.

Baylor looks to be the favorite for the NCAA title. The Lady Bears have a ton of talent, led by Brittney Griner and Odyssey Sims, but somebody has to recruit it and orchestrate it. That's Mulkey.

Tara VanDerveer, Stanford: "Midnight in Paris"

Tara VanDerveerVanDerveer
Coaches always have to look forward; they can't dwell in the past -- no matter how rosy that past might look in retrospect.

We're now approaching the 20-year anniversary of Stanford's last NCAA title. It seems kind of weird that it has been so long, considering the Cardinal have been in the Final Four the past four years. But indeed, when Stanford beat Western Kentucky in Los Angeles for the 1992 title, it was not only the most recent for VanDerveer, but also for the entire West Coast.

In the event that you haven't seen "Midnight in Paris," I don't want to reveal much of the plot, except to say that it concerns the way we can sometimes revere the past to the degree of missing what's in front of us.

VanDerveer has been the guiding hand behind one of the most consistently competitive women's hoops programs in the nation, one that -- as mentioned -- has carried the Pacific Time Zone flag.

The Cardinal lost starters Kayla Pedersen and Jeanette Pohlen to graduation. But once again Stanford is steamrolling the Pac-12 and in line for a No. 1 seed.

Others worthy of mention: "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close"

Have to admit I didn't much care for this film -- the words contrived and manipulative come to mind -- but I chose the title to represent some of the folks who will have a loud cheering section for coach of the year and were close to making my ballot, too.

UTEP's Keitha Adams: The Miners are 25-2 overall and 14-0 in Conference USA.

Green Bay's Matt Bollant: Another coach hit by graduation, the Phoenix are 14-1 in the Horizon League and 24-1 overall.

DePaul's Doug Bruno: Few coaches have lost as many players to injury this season -- including star Keisha Hampton -- as Bruno. Yet the Blue Demons are 20-8 and still in the upper half of the Big East.

Gonzaga's Kelly Graves: Courtney Vandersloot has gone to the WNBA, but the Bulldogs are atop the West Coast Conference again at 13-2 and are 24-4 overall.

Florida Gulf Coast's Karl Smesko: He has the Eagles soaring in the first season they are eligible for the Division I NCAA tournament. They are 25-2 overall and 17-0 in the Atlantic Sun.

Penn State's Coquese Washington: In a difficult year for her university, she has led the Lady Lions to their first Big Ten regular-season title since 2004.

And if I had to vote right now, the winner would be …

Tina Martin, whose Delaware team has maintained its chemistry and its success thus far.

Brittney GrinerAP Photo/Tony GutierrezBrittney Griner, who simply doesn't have bad games, averages 23.1 ppg, 9.6 rpg and 5.4 bpg.

Remember Nike's "Little Rascals" commercials featuring WNBA stars? You don't? Well, then go to YouTube. If you do, recall the one in which the bossy little girl grills Cynthia Cooper for an explanation of why she pulled up for a 3-pointer on the break rather than passing to Tina Thompson on the block.

"Because I was open," an exasperated Cooper finally says. But that doesn't satisfy the kiddo.

In fact, Cooper could have said, "I could make a strong case for me taking the 3-pointer because I'm a great shooter, and I could also do the same for passing to my post player because she's terrific, too. Neither would have been a wrong decision, so I really shouldn't have to defend it."

Of course, that wouldn't have made such a funny commercial. But it's a pretty good answer much of the time when you're dealing with a variety of topics, including player or coach of the year in various sports. There is usually more than one qualified candidate, and good arguments can be made for each one.

However, in the end, if you're a voter for such an award, you have to make a decision. And in regard to national player of the year, if the vote was right now, I would pick Baylor center Brittney Griner.

What about Stanford senior post player Nneka Ogwumike? Notre Dame junior guard Skylar Diggins? Delaware junior guard/forward Elena Delle Donne? Each of them will get votes, and those absolutely can be justified.

I was leaning toward Ogwumike in the preseason, and she hasn't done anything at all to lose the award. But Griner still has moved to the top of the list. In the end, I keep coming back to this: Has any player performed more consistently at a higher level and led her team to more success this season than Griner? It's still a close call, isn't it?

But Baylor, ranked No. 1, is 26-0 overall and 13-0 in the Big 12. Since the Lady Bears' toughest matchup of the season -- the 66-61 victory over UConn on Dec. 18 in Waco, Texas -- Baylor has had just one game decided by fewer than double digits. That was a 72-64 win at Texas Tech on Jan. 18.

Baylor is outscoring its foes by an average of 80.4 to 50.8 this season. Baylor is on its way to being the third Big 12 team to go undefeated in league play -- following Oklahoma in 2006 and Nebraska in 2010 -- and also projects to be stronger in the NCAA tournament than those squads, both of whom lost in the Sweet 16.

Throughout this run of perfection, Griner -- named Monday as one of the 21 finalists for the U.S. Olympic women's hoops team -- has been like clockwork. Through the most recently updated NCAA statistical rankings on Sunday, Griner is seventh in scoring and first in blocked shots. She's in the top 35 on the boards, in part because that's a chore she shares with two other very good rebounders for Baylor: Destiny Williams and Brooklyn Pope. Griner has not fouled out this season.

She simply doesn't have bad games, with averages of 23.1 points, 9.6 rebounds and 5.4 blocks. Although it's true you could say that about the other top candidates for player of the year, too, as all of them have their teams atop their respective conferences.

Delle Donne, who is such a complete, versatile player, is going to have some support for sure in challenging Griner for the award. The 6-foot-5 Delle Donne seems to keep getting stronger as the season wears on.

She is averaging a Division I-leading 28.8 points for the Blue Hens, who are in front of the Colonial Athletic Association at 14-0. She's also getting 10.4 rebounds per game.

Thursday, she had a monster of a game: 42 points, 14 rebounds and six blocked shots against Hofstra, a worthy league opponent, in an 89-79 victory. Delle Donne now has scored 40 points or more four times this season.

Her numbers are majorly eye-popping, especially considering her CAA opponents have tried all possible defenses to stop her, save putting her in handcuffs. (If Hofstra had tried that, she probably would have scored only 24 points.)

Diggins' Irish suffered an unexpected loss to West Virginia, but they are still 12-1 in the Big East with another matchup coming Feb. 27 against UConn, which is 11-1 in the league.

Diggins is averaging 17.2 points, 5.8 assists, 2.9 rebounds and 2.5 steals. In Notre Dame's two losses, to Baylor and West Virginia, Diggins still scored 27 and 32 points, respectively.

At this point, the Stanford fans are probably jumping up and down screaming, "What about Nneka?" Your frustration is understandable. You aren't too happy that folks accidentally still keep calling the conference the "Pac-10" (it's kind of a hard habit to break, though, at least for the first season) and that doubters continue to question the difficulty of Pac-12 competition. Why should Stanford be penalized for crushing the league again?

Nneka Ogwumike is averaging 22.3 points and 10.7 rebounds. Not far behind is her sophomore sister, Chiney (16.0 ppg, 10.3 rpg), who seems certain to be a candidate for national player of the year next season.

The Cardinal are 13-0 in the Pac-12, far and away in the lead. Their only loss of the season was in November to Connecticut at the XL Center in Hartford.

Would you be wrong to go with any of these four -- Griner, Nneka Ogwumike, Diggins or Delle Donne -- as your player of the year? Not at all. And let's also reiterate that this decision doesn't have to be made today, we're still just in mid-February.

But the leader of the pack is Griner. With several great choices, she's still the favorite.

Midseason award candidates

Wade Trophy watch (33): LaSondra Barrett, LSU; Alex Bentley, Penn State; Cierra Bravard, Florida State; Carolyn Davis, Kansas; Elena Delle Donne, Delaware; Skylar Diggins, Notre Dame; Jasmine Dixon, UCLA; Stefanie Dolson, Connecticut; Brittney Griner, Baylor; Keisha Hampton, DePaul; Bria Hartley, Connecticut; Tiffany Hayes, Connecticut; Tayler Hill, Ohio State; Jordan Hooper, Nebraska; Glory Johnson, Tennessee; Shenise Johnson, Miami; Anna Martin, DePaul; A'dia Mathies, Kentucky; Natalie Novosel, Notre Dame; Chiney Ogwumike, Stanford; Nneka Ogwumike, Stanford; Devereaux Peters, Notre Dame; Samantha Prahalis, Ohio State; Jaime Printy, Iowa; Monique Reid, Louisville; Sugar Rodgers, Georgetown; Khadijah Rushdan, Rutgers; Odyssey Sims, Baylor; Shekinna Stricklen, Tennessee; Alyssa Thomas, Maryland; Tyra White, Texas A&M; Riquna Williams, Miami; Julie Wojta, Green Bay.

Wooden Award watch list (20): Alex Bentley, Penn State; Elena Delle Donne, Delaware; Skylar Diggins, Notre Dame; Shante Evans, Hofstra; Brittney Griner, Baylor; Bria Hartley, Connecticut; Glory Johnson, Tennessee; Shenise Johnson, Miami; A'dia Mathies, Kentucky; Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Connecticut; Natalie Novosel, Notre Dame; Chiney Ogwumike, Stanford; Nneka Ogwumike, Stanford; Samantha Prahalis, Ohio State; Sugar Rodgers, Georgetown; Odyssey Sims, Baylor; Shekinna Stricklen, Tennessee; Alyssa Thomas, Maryland; Elizabeth Williams, Duke; Riquna Williams, Miami.

Naismith early season watch list (51; from November): LaSondra Barrett, LSU; Alex Bentley, Penn State; Cierra Bravard, Florida State; Brittany Carter, Memphis; Sydney Carter, Texas A&M; Carolyn Davis, Kansas; Elena Delle Donne, Delaware; Skylar Diggins, Notre Dame; Stefanie Dolson, Connecticut; Aaryn Ellenberg, Oklahoma; Shante Evans, Hofstra; Casey Garrison, Missouri State; Jacki Gemelos, Southern California; Briana Gilbreath, Southern California; Chelsea Gray, Duke; Brittney Griner, Baylor; Keisha Hampton, DePaul; Whitney Hand, Oklahoma; Bria Hartley, Connecticut; Tiffany Hayes, Connecticut; Courtney Hurt, Virginia Commonwealth; Jasmine James, Georgia; Shenise Johnson, Miami; Lykendra Johnson, Michigan State; Glory Johnson, Tennessee; Lynetta Kizer, Maryland; Maggie Lucas, Penn State; Kevi Luper, Oral Roberts; A'dia Mathies, Kentucky; Natalie Novosel, Notre Dame; Chiney Ogwumike, Stanford; Nneka Ogwumike, Stanford; Shey Peddy, Temple; Devereaux Peters, Notre Dame; Samantha Prahalis, Ohio State; Jaime Printy, Iowa; Justine Raterman, Dayton; Monique Reid, Louisville; Sugar Rodgers, Georgetown; Khadijah Rushdan, Rutgers; Shoni Schimmel, Louisville; Naama Shafir, Toledo; Meighan Simmons, Tennessee; Odyssey Sims, Baylor; Kayla Standish, Gonzaga; Da'Shena Stevens, St. John's; Shekinna Stricklen, Tennessee; April Sykes, Rutgers; Alyssa Thomas, Maryland; Tyra White, Texas A&M; Riquna Williams, Miami.

There's no surprise among the No. 1 seeds, which would be Baylor, Connecticut, Notre Dame and Stanford. But which teams join Maryland as a No. 2? ESPN.com's Charlie Creme gives us a brief Bracketology update, with a full field of 64 coming Jan. 9.

UConn's Geno Auriemma talks about the positives for both teams out of Sunday's loss to Baylor.

Baylor coach Kim Mulkey talks about how animated she got with the officials in Sunday's 66-61 win over UConn.

ESPN's Rebecca Lobo grills Baylor's Brittney Griner with five questions, getting the Lady Bears' star to fess up on something she might have said about Geno Auriemma last year, which player Griner would most like to dunk on … and the best words to describe coach Kim Mulkey's hair.

Baylor's Odyssey Sims talks about how defense and following the game plan helped the top-ranked Lady Bears win Sunday at No. 7 Tennessee.

Sixteen teams are perfect in the women's NCAA tournament so far. But in the Women's Tournament Challenge, there are no perfect brackets.

Only one bracket correctly picked the Sweet 16, and that was after going 31-for-32 (the only incorrect game was Marquette over Texas) in the first round.

Two users got each first-round pick correct and then missed just one game in the second round.

The most popular result for the Sweet 16 was a bracket that had 10 of the 16 teams in the regional semifinals correct. Brackets with 26 of 32 teams correct were the most popular result after the first round.

A look at each region:

Spokane

• Just 0.65 percent of entries had Xavier to win the national championship.

• Meanwhile, 66.4 percent of brackets had Louisville meeting Xavier in the second round, but only 13 percent believed Louisville would win the matchup, while 3.3 percent of users have Louisville in the Elite Eight and 0.3 percent have it in the Final Four.

• UCLA, the No. 3 seed in the Spokane Regional, was predicted by 76 percent of brackets to make the Sweet 16, 34.5 percent to make the Elite Eight and 4.5 percent to win its region. Only 9.3 percent of users had Gonzaga making it this far, and only 1.8 percent have the team in the Final Four. While 31.3 percent overall predicted the matchup between Gonzaga and UCLA, 26.7 percent had Gonzaga winning.

• One percent of entries had Louisville and Gonzaga playing against each other in the third round, and 63.1 percent of those predictors had Louisville winning.

• Just 0.5 percent of entries predicted that Stanford, UNC, Louisville and Gonzaga would make the Sweet 16.

Potential Elite Eight matchups:
• Stanford vs. Gonzaga: 2.4 percent of entries predicted the matchup with 83.7 percent of those entries predicting Stanford wins
• Stanford vs. Louisville: 2.6 percent of entries predicted the matchup with 93.1 percent of those entries predicting Stanford wins
• UNC vs. Gonzaga: 0.2 percent of entries predicted the matchup with 66.6 percent of those entries predicting UNC wins
• UNC vs. Louisville: 0.3 percent of entries predicted the matchup with 75.5 percent of those entries predicting UNC wins

Philadelphia

• 19.1 percent of entries predicted that UConn, Georgetown, Duke and DePaul would make the Sweet 16 out of this region.

• 98.6 percent of brackets had UConn in the Sweet 16, 96.3 percent in the Elite Eight and 89.6 percent in the Final Four. 51.5 percent of brackets have UConn winning it all.

What does that mean? Not good things for Georgetown: 29 percent had Georgetown advancing to the Sweet 16, but only 0.6 percent have the Hoyas making it any further. 28.7 percent of entries predicted this matchup against UConn, but only 1.5 percent have Georgetown ousting the No. 1 seed. Only 73 brackets predicted Georgetown as national champion.

• 68.6 percent of entries predicted Duke facing off against DePaul in the Sweet 16, and fans stuck with the No. 2 seed at a clip of 76.1 percent. Only 6.5 percent have Duke making the Final Four. DePaul was predicted by 72.2 percent of brackets to make the Sweet 16, 18.6 percent to make the Elite Eight and 1.2 percent to make the Final Four. It is the lowest No. 3 seed in that regard (all the other No. 3 seeds received at least 3.3 percent). But DePaul was the only No. 3 seed to survive.

Potential Elite Eight matchups:
• UConn vs. Duke: 72.8 percent of entries predicted the matchup with 92.6 percent of those entries predicting UConn wins
• UConn vs. DePaul: 18 percent of entries predicted the matchup with 94.9 percent of those entries predicting UConn wins
• Georgetown vs. Duke: 0.3 percent of entries predicted the matchup with 73 percent of those entries predicting Duke wins
• Georgetown vs. DePaul: 0.2 percent of entries predicted the matchup with 65.2 percent of those entries predicting DePaul wins

Dayton

• 23.9 percent of entries had Tennessee, OSU, ND and OU in the Sweet 16.

Oklahoma was the biggest surprise, selected by only 35.8 percent of entries to make the Sweet 16. 87.9 percent of entries had the second-round Oklahoma versus Miami matchup, but only 39.2 percent had Oklahoma with the upset. And 3.7 percent of users predicted Miami to make the Final Four; the upset disrupted 17.5 percent of brackets who had the Hurricanes in the Elite Eight.

• Users predicted that it would be a no-brainer that Tennessee would advance to this point: 96.6 percent of users had Tennessee going at least two rounds. Now, Tennessee faces Ohio State in the Sweet 16, a common matchup selected by 72.4 percent of users. 88.1 percent have Tennessee advancing from that matchup and a total of 86.6 percent of brackets have the Lady Vols in the Elite Eight. 65.7 percent have Tennessee in the Final Four. Ohio State makes the Elite Eight in only 9.7 percent of brackets and the Final Four in 4.3 percent.

• Despite the early-round confidence in Tennessee, it is the least-selected No. 1 seed to make the Final Four (Stanford: 79.5 percent; UConn: 89.6 percent; Baylor: 78.3 percent).

• Only 33.1 percent of entries predicted a Notre Dame-Oklahoma matchup; 76.3 percent of those users have Notre Dame advancing and 70 percent out of all brackets have the Irish in the Elite Eight. 21.9 percent have Notre Dame in the Final Four, the most of any of the No. 2 seeds by a large margin. Oklahoma was predicted to make it to the Elite Eight in only 9.7 percent of brackets, while 2.1 percent believed it could make the Final Four.

Potential Elite Eight matchups:
• Tennessee vs. Notre Dame: 61.9 percent of entries predicted the matchup with 73.1 percent of those entries predicting Tennessee wins
• Tennessee vs. Oklahoma: 8.1 percent of entries predicted the matchup with 81.8 percent of those entries predicting Tennessee wins
• OSU vs. Notre Dame: 6.5 percent of entries predicted the matchup with 63.8 percent of those entries predicting Notre Dame wins
• OSU vs. Oklahoma: 1.1 percent of entries predicted the matchup with 65.3 percent of those entries predicting Ohio State wins

Dallas

• Just 6 percent of entries predicted that Baylor, Green Bay, Georgia and Texas A&M would all make the Sweet 16.

• Michigan State was heavily favored to advance over Green Bay, according to our users, who had MSU in 61.9 percent of brackets and Green Bay in only 34.3 percent of brackets. 4.3 percent of brackets had MSU making the Elite Eight and 2.1 percent had it in the Final Four.

• 33.8 percent of entries had Baylor versus Green Bay in the Sweet 16. Almost all of them, 92 percent, have Baylor advancing to the Elite Eight. Overall, 91.1 percent of the brackets have Baylor in the Elite Eight and 78.3 percent have the Lady Bears in the Final Four. Green Bay is predicted by only 1.8 percent of brackets to make the Final Four.

• 21.6 percent of brackets had No. 6 seed Georgia in the Sweet 16, and 17.3 percent of all brackets had it facing Texas A&M in the next round. 82.7 percent of those predicting the matchup have Texas A&M advancing, but that is no surprise, as 63 percent of all users have A&M in the Elite Eight and 11.6 percent have it in the Final Four. Just 0.5 percent have Georgia in the Final Four.

Potential Elite Eight matchups:
• Baylor vs. Georgia: 4.3 percent of entries predicted the matchup with 91.7 percent of those entries predicting Baylor wins
• Baylor vs. Texas A&M: 58.7 percent of entries predicted the matchup with 83.9 percent of those entries predicting Baylor wins
• Green Bay vs. Texas A&M: 1.8 percent of entries predicted the matchup, with 56.1 percent of those entries predicting Green Bay wins
• Green Bay vs. Georgia: 0.2 percent of entries predicted the matchup with 64.4 percent of those entries predicting Green Bay wins

Most popular championship game matchups

• 31.1 percent have UConn versus Stanford in the final, with 70 percent of those entries with UConn winning
• 35.3 percent have UConn versus Baylor in the finals, with 66.9 percent of those entries with UConn winning

Least popular

• Two entries had Georgetown facing off against Gonzaga in the final
• Five entries had Oklahoma facing off against Gonzaga in the final

Players who are disappointed in an aspect of their performance frequently say that it will fuel them to improve. Frankly, it doesn't always happen. But in the case of Brittney Griner and free-throw shooting, it has.

Which is not to say that Griner was terrible at the foul line as a freshman last season. She shot 68.4 percent, not bad for a rookie post player, but it was something she wanted to improve.

The sophomore center was frustrated by her 5-of-13 performance from the line in November's game against UConn, a 65-64 loss in which every one of those free-throw misses loomed large.

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Brittney Griner
Matt Strasen/US PresswireBrittney Griner was 12 of 15 at the foul line and 9 of 17 from the field for 30 points in 31 minutes Tuesday.

Griner said that wouldn't happen again. And she has backed that up, hitting 78.2 percent (229-of-293) in her second season at Baylor. That includes going 12-of-15 from the line Tuesday in the Dallas No. 1 seed Lady Bears' 82-68 victory over West Virginia in the second round.

Griner had some early foul trouble in the game, but in the end she caused a lot more trouble for West Virginia's defense. The Mountaineers had to play a physical style to have any hope of slowing Baylor, but the Lady Bears made them pay at the stripe.

Melissa Jones hit 7 of 8 free throws on the way to 13 points, and Odyssey Sims made 6 of 8 as she also scored 13. As a team, Baylor was 28 of 35 from the line (80 percent).

As a team this season, Baylor is at 73.9 percent in foul shooting, so Griner is more than doing her part to make that one of the Lady Bears' strengths. And when adding in her 54.4 percent shooting from the field this season -- she connected on 9 of 17 Tuesday -- you can see why the best hope that foes have is just trying to keep Griner from getting the ball in the first place. Because once she has it anywhere close to scoring position, she's usually going to burn you.

So denial is a good strategy … if you can pull it off. But consider the two Baylor players who are the best at feeding the ball to Griner -- Jones and Sims -- have a combined 231 assists to 119 turnovers, then you realize denying Griner is ridiculously difficult, too.

And that's why she can have nights like Tuesday's even against a very hard-working defensive team: 30 points in 31 minutes.

One of the things about the NCAA tournament first round for the No. 1 seeds is that those openers usually are quite different from any contest the teams have played for a while.

The No. 1s are coming off conference seasons where, even if they ran the table in the league, they usually did get some challenges. But often as not, the disparity between the No. 1 and No. 16 seeds in the NCAA field is such that playing these games is a mere formality.

Then that, in itself, becomes the challenge.

Baylor, the No. 1 seed in the Dallas Regional, lost just one game to a Big 12 foe this season. But the Lady Bears went into every league game knowing that it wasn't totally inconceivable for them to lose.

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Kimetria Hayden
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezKimetria Hayden came off the bench for 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting for Baylor.

However, Sunday at the Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas, it basically was inconceivable for Baylor to fall to Prairie View. To that end, the starters knew they would have somewhat abbreviated nights, and the reserves knew it was up to them not to let the game get sloppy or lackadaisical when they were in.

For the most part, Baylor's starters and bench did OK with all that in a 66-30 victory. Considering Prairie View had the lowest first-half point total in tournament history -- eight -- it would have been pretty difficult for the Lady Bears to come out after the break growling all that fiercely.

And their shooting percentage did drop, from 59.3 percent in the first half to 32.1 percent in the second. But individually, there were two very noteworthy performances off the bench by players who could be very important for Baylor in later tournament games.

Kimetria Hayden, who came in and gave Baylor a lift after the team got off to a slow start in the Big 12 title game against Texas A&M last weekend, had 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting against Prairie View.

And Brooklyn Pope tied starting center Brittney Griner for the team lead with 17 points Sunday. Pope, who sat out last season after transferring from Rutgers, also had seven rebounds.

Pope has started 17 of Baylor's 34 games. Another sophomore transfer, Destiny Williams from Illinois, was eligible at semester break and also has started 17 games. Both Williams and Pope are 6-foot-1 forwards who can crash the boards and play strong defense. At this point, Williams is the more consistent player, but Pope has had moments in games where you see how valuable she can be.

So while Sunday's game didn't reveal anything at all about Baylor not previously known, it did put on display the depth of the team and the Lady Bears' ability to stay pretty plugged in to the mission at hand. Even when it's a piece of cake.

Conference tournaments are wrapped up and all 31 automatic NCAA tournament berths are spoken for. So what can we expect on Selection Monday (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET)? Charlie Creme crunched the numbers for his final Bracketology. Here, he gives us the top eight teams in order, tells us why UCLA got a No. 2 seed over Notre Dame, and explains why three teams on the bubble didn't make the cut in his last projection.

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