March 2, 2011
WACO, Texas (AP) - Brittney Griner lay on the floor, spreading her arms with a nearly 71/2-foot wingspan and creating an angel figure in the multicolored confetti that had fallen from the rafters.
The third-ranked Baylor Lady Bears had reason to celebrate. They reached their first primary goal by clinching the Big 12 title.
Griner scored 22 points, missing a dunk but making her first career 3-pointer, and Baylor secured its second conference title with an 84-52 victory over Missouri on Wednesday night.
"We wanted to win a Big 12 championship. We did," coach Kim Mulkey said. "I'm so happy that we had that kind of scene at home on our floor with our fans. They deserve it as much as these players do."
While the song "Celebration" blared over the speakers, Baylor president Ken Starr helped present the Big 12 championship trophy. The 6-foot-8 Griner got down on the floor and the Lady Bears cut down the nets.
As all that was happening, Kansas State wrapped up an upset victory over fifth-ranked Texas A&M that assured Baylor winning the conference title outright.
Brooklyn Pope added 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Lady Bears (27-2, 14-1), whose other Big 12 title was in 2004-05, their national championship season.
"I just had a ton of respect for them before we even played them," Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said. "You always follow some of the best teams in the country and certainly Baylor's one of them. They're absolutely a fantastic team. I thought that coming in."
RaeShara Brown had 17 points for Missouri (12-17, 4-11), and Shakara Jones has 10.
Kimetria Hayden and Odyssey Sims added 13 points each for Baylor while Jordan Madden had 11.
Baylor was without senior Melissa Jones in what would been her last regular-season home game. The Lady Bears were up 12-0 only 4 minutes into the game, including two 3-pointers by Madden and two baskets by Griner.
Jones hit her head diving for a loose ball in a win Sunday at Oklahoma. She has swelling around the optic nerve in her right eye that is affecting her vision. Whitney Zachariason, Baylor's only other senior, started in her place and had 10 rebounds.
Mulkey said she got "great news" earlier Wednesday from Jones' doctor.
"He couldn't have brought us any better news. He has told us that she will regain her vision in that eye," Mulkey said. "We're always cautiously optimistic, but he tells us you'd better be very optimistic. We just don't know when."
It was only the second career start for Zachariason. Jones has started 63 games in her Baylor career.
"I have to practice against (Jones) every day, so you can imagine how tough that is. She's taught me a few things, and I tried to get a few boards, just to help out the team," Zachariason said. "We really wanted to win this for MJ. ... It was unbelievable, just great to have her back."
The Lady Bears get to play at home at least one more time. They host a first-round NCAA tournament game March 20.
"You've just got to give it up for Whitney for just being the rebounding stud she was," Jones said. "It was such a special moment to be able to share with her. ... It is reassuring that we will still have home games on the Ferrell Center floor that we can go back out there and play in front of our crowd again."
Griner missed a dunk with just over 11 minutes left, but made her first career 3-pointer about 5 minutes later to give Baylor a 77-39 lead.
"I've always wanted to be able to do it in a game, and I finally got the chance, so I made a 3," Griner said. "I'll think about being a guard now. You saw that stepback, right? I thought I was MJ."
Mulkey quickly responded, "Don't get too comfortable out there."
Missouri missed its first nine field goal attempts before Brown hit a 3-pointer with 12:18 left to make it 15-5. The Lady Bears responded with a 15-5 run after that.
"I thought we played a little scattered," Pingeton said. "We wanted to be aggressive but be under control and have some poise. We didn't have that poise coming out of the gates. ... Just give all the credit to Baylor."