Dec. 11, 2011
NEW YORK (AP) - After a great weekend in New York, Brittney Griner and Baylor now can turn their attention to the upcoming showdown with Connecticut.
Griner had 17 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks to help the No. 1 Lady Bears rally to beat St. John's 73-59 in the Maggie Dixon Classic on Sunday at Madison Square Garden.
Brooklyn Pope scored 19 points to lead the Lady Bears (10-0), who host No. 2 UConn on Dec. 18. It's the second straight season they have met as the top two teams in the poll. The Huskies edged the Lady Bears in Hartford last season by one point.
"I think it's a game that's been highlighted on my calendar," Griner said. "Who wouldn't be happy to play 1 vs 2. To play at home in front of your fans, there's nothing like it."
Baylor struggled early on against St. John's and was trailing 36-30 early in the second half before finally taking over.
Griner was the catalyst during an 18-3 run, scoring six points and blocking two shots. Her two free throws gave Baylor a 38-36 lead. The 6-foot-8 junior phenom's consecutive layups later in the burst extended the advantage to 44-39.
Odyssey Sims' first basket of the game capped the run and made it a nine-point game.
Eugeneia McPherson scored 23 points to lead St. John's (5-5), which didn't get within seven the rest of the way.
"I'm proud we won and most proud we didn't have to make excuses," Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. "Our basketball team didn't play well today and give St. John's credit. Sometimes we take wins for granted. I don't take any win for granted. When you have No. 1 plastered in front of you, you'll get everyone's best shot."
It was a stellar weekend in New York for Baylor. Football star Robert Griffin III won the Heisman Trophy on Saturday night. The women's basketball team went to support their classmate, cheering him on from the red carpet while wearing shirts that said: "RG3 Baylor Nation."
The Lady Bears were at a Broadway show when they were texted the news of his victory. Fortunately, it came at a perfect time in the play so they could let out a loud cheer.
"We got the text he won and it was perfect timing because the crowd was cheering for Spiderman. I yelled at RG3," Griner said.
She and Griffin are good friends and he challenged her to a dunk contest.
"I challenged him to a throwing contest too, but i feel like I'll lose that one," she said laughing.
This is the second time that Baylor has played in the Classic named for the former Army women's coach. The Lady Bears beat Boston College two seasons ago. It's the fifth time the Classic has been played at Madison Square Garden. The first one was played at West Point when Army beat Ohio State.
Maggie Dixon died April 6, 2006, of arrhythmia, probably caused by an enlarged heart. Her death came three weeks after her first season as a head coach, a performance that won the admiration of the academy and all of college basketball as she led Army to its first NCAA berth. The Cadets lost in the first round to Tennessee. Pat Summitt's seventh-ranked Lady Vols faced No. 20 DePaul in the second game of the women's doubleheader.
The Lady Bears struggled in the first half as St. John's packed in its defense, refusing to let Griner beat them. Trailing 26-21 late in the half, St. John's went on a 7-0 run to take its first lead of the game on McKenith's layup and was up 32-30 at the break. Griner had seven points and six rebounds, but only took three shots.
"The kids were a little too excited at the half," St. John's coach Kim Barnes Arico said. "We had 20 more minutes and they'd make a run. We had done a tremendous job on Sims. Our biggest challenge was to keep that level of consistency.
Sims, who had been averaging 18 points and 10 assists in her last five games, was scoreless in the first half after missing all four of her shots. Pope was the only offensive bright spot in the first half for the Lady Bears, scoring 11 points.
McPherson had 10 points and Nadirah McKenith nine for the Red Storm in the first half. She also had seven assists before leaving the game with 5:40 left in the game after hurting her right knee. The junior guard was helped off the court unable to put any pressure on that leg.
"It's stinky, really, really stinky," Barnes Arico said. "I thought Nadirah was unbelievable. Nadirah shined in the first half. Hopefully we'll find out more tomorrow."
Some help is on the way for St. John's. The Red Storm have been missing Da'Shena Stevens all season as she's recovering from a left knee injury suffered over the summer. Stevens is expected to be back next weekend when the Red Storm host their own tournament.
The Maggie Dixon Classic has special meaning to Barnes Arico. Her brother Chris was running in London in May 2005 and his heart stopped. While he did survive, he's been living in an assisted care facility on Long Island.