WACO, Texas (AP) — Brittney Griner certainly knows how to provide a farewell to remember — and an embrace Baylor coach Kim Mulkey will likely never forget. There were three impressive dunks on a night Griner almost could have had more in her final home game.
“Tonight felt like senior night. Tonight was better,” Griner said. ” The three dunks. Just going out the way we did. Not everybody’s lucky, and we were. We gave the crowd a good game.”
Griner had 33 points and a career-high 22 rebounds, becoming the first woman to make three dunks in a game, as the defending national champion Lady Bears rolled past Florida State 85-47 Tuesday night in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
With former President George W. Bush part of the crowd packed into the Ferrell Center for the final home game of Griner’s impressive career and four other seniors, the 6-foot-8 two-time All-American delivered in spectacular fashion — with one dunk before halftime and two more in a 79-second span right before coming out of the game for good.
“It’s always exciting to see when Brittney dunks. I always get excited. We always get excited,” junior point guard Odyssey Sims said. “Everyone gets pumped. It’s nothing we’ve never seen. She’s just phenomenal.”
Brooklyn Pope had 12 points for Baylor, which has won a nation’s-best 57 games in a row at home. Sims had 11 points and Kimetria Hayden 10. The Lady Bears (34-1) are in the NCAA round of 16 for the fourth year in a row. They play Louisville (26-8) on Sunday night in Oklahoma City.
Griner’s opening slam came on a break after a Florida State basket. Freshman guard Niya Johnson passed ahead to Griner, who took one step without a dribble before slamming it home with 4 minutes left in the first half for a 43-18 lead — sending the partisan crowd of 9,652 into a frenzy as she ran down the court with her mouth open and clearly enjoying the moment.
But she wasn’t finished. Bush had already left his front-row seats behind the Baylor bench when Griner had the last two dunks. She dunked again on another pass from Johnson with 7:46 left in the game, then had an assist on the next possession before her last dunk with 6:27 left — when she grabbed the rebound of a missed 3-pointer, and went back up with a reverse slam.
During a timeout less than a half-minute later, Griner came out of her final home game for the Lady Bears. While the crowd gave her a loud and lengthy ovation, Griner shared an extended embrace with Mulkey — and picked her coach up off the ground. After putting Mulkey down and going down to the end of the bench, Griner thrust both arms into the air to acknowledge the cheers.
“I’ve had lots of those from Brittney. You just hope she doesn’t squeeze the air out of you so you don’t pass out,” said Mulkey, describing the shared moment as “just joy.”
Mulkey fought back tears as the ovation continued for Griner. And to imagine Griner might have had more dunks.
Griner looked like she was going for another slam when she was fouled by 5-foot-2 Yashira Delgado. There was later the pass from Pope that sailed over Griner’s head when she was open and headed toward the basket.
When the game was over, Griner again held both arms in the air. She took a couple of laps around the arena floor, with Baylor cheerleaders following her, then jumped onto the back of Shanay Washington for a piggy-back ride before then returning the favor to her close friend and former teammate whose career ended early because of multiple knee injuries.
Since the senior trio of Griner, Kimetria Hayden and Jordan Madden got to Waco as freshmen together, Baylor is 71-2 at home. Griner has played in only one loss since she didn’t participate in the last home loss, against Texas in the 2009-10 regular-season finale.
The Lady Bears have won every home game the past three seasons — since Sims arrived and when transfers Destiny Williams and Pope, the other seniors, started playing.
Leonor Rodriguez had 11 points and was the only player in double figures for Florida State (23-10), which at the end of the regular season was the only of the 343 Division I teams with five players averaging in double figures.
“Certainly, it’s not an easy task to come into this environment and ask your kids to be able to block it all out,” Seminoles coach Sue Semrau said.
As for Semrau’s impression of Griner: “She is better in person. You’ve got to credit her development and growth.”
The first one-handed slam for Griner came late in the first half of a game that got lopsided in a hurry. The Lady Bears scored the game’s first 11 points, even without a field goal from Griner in that opening 3½-minute onslaught.
Only six other women have ever dunked in a college game. That group had 15 dunks combined, three less than Griner’s career total. The most dunks by anyone else was the seven by Tennessee’s Candace Parker. Griner has six in NCAA tournament games the last two seasons, and 11 overall as a senior.
Griner relished her few minutes on the court after the game ended.
“Happy for the win. How the game went. Happy just seeing the crowd. They’ve been great since I’ve stepped on the court,” Griner said. “They’ve always come out to support us. Seeing the crowd pack the Ferrell out, stand up and cheer for all the seniors. It was just a great feeling. I’m definitely going to miss it.”
article by Stephen Hawkins, AP via thegrio.com