DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) – Baylor was cruising, the Lady Bears’ reserves were waiting to check in and there seemed to be little excitement.
Then Brittney Griner got behind the Georgia Tech defense and everyone in the arena knew what could be coming.
Baylor’s 6-foot-8 All-American didn’t disappoint.
Griner threw down a two-handed dunk to cap a sensational performance and the Lady Bears stormed into the NCAA regional finals for the third straight year with an 83-68 victory over Georgia Tech on Saturday.
Griner, who finished with 35 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks, took a pass from Brooklyn Pope and soared in for her dunk with 6:29 left in yet another rout for the Lady Bears — swinging briefly on the rim for good measure.
“I wanted to get one in this game,” said Griner, who was almost nonchalant about her crowd-pleasing play. “Brooklyn got me the ball and I just went up and slammed it.”
It was the second straight game in which Griner dunked and the seventh slam of her college career. She’s now tied with former Tennessee star Candace Parker, whose two dunks in NCAA tournament play had been the most.
“Even though she dunks in warm-ups all the time, in the game it’s just something that automatically just gets us fired up and really excited,” Baylor’s Odyssey Sims said. “I think we get more excited for her than she does for herself.”
Destiny Williams added 18 points on 9-for-10 shooting for the top-seeded Lady Bears (37-0), who’ll play second-seeded Tennessee in the regional final on Monday night, the winner advancing to the Final Four.
Baylor, the 2005 national champion, will be seeking its third Final Four appearance and second in three years. Tennessee, which has won eight titles, will try to get to the national semifinals for the 19th time.
Though her team was hopelessly behind at the time, Georgia Tech coach MaChelle Joseph didn’t feel Griner was rubbing it in with her dunk. Heck, she thought it was cool.
“It doesn’t bother me,” Joseph said. “I think she’s great for the game. I think it’s awesome. Nobody wants to get dunked on, but how many people can actually say I coached in a game where a female basketball player dunked?”
Baylor took control with a 20-0 first-half run and never gave fourth-seeded Tech (26-9) a chance to answer. Sharp-shooting freshman Sydney Wallace led Georgia Tech with 32 points.
Griner dominated with her scoring (13-for-18 shooting), rebounding and intimidation on defense. Then came the dunk, which put Baylor up 77-46 — and even the neutral fans stood and roared their approval.
A few seconds later, during a timeout, Baylor coach Kim Mulkey took Griner and the other starters out, giving the crowd another chance to salute the game’s most dominating player.
“There’s no doubt that Brittney Griner is definitely the best player I’ve ever coached against, I’ve ever seen play live,” Joseph said. “She’s a tremendous talent on both ends of the floor. But I thought their complementary players, Destiny Williams in particular, had a huge game for them, especially in the first 10 minutes of the game.”
Georgia Tech made the round of 16 for the first time and came in with nine victories in the last 10 games. The Yellow Jackets showed they were serious about competing early as Wallace, who scored 51 points in the first two rounds of the tournament, hit a 3-pointer in front of the Baylor bench and dropped in a high floater over Griner that put Tech up 10-6 and forced a Baylor timeout.
Wallace had no problem showing some enthusiasm after burying her 3.
If only she and her teammates had known what was ahead.
The Lady Bears charged out of the timeout and scored the next 20 points and take a 26-10 lead — and they did it with everyone contributing.
Griner hit three soft turnaround shots. Williams got inside for three buckets and made a leaner in the lane. Kimetria Hayden knocked down a jumper and a free throw, and Sims added three free throws. She finished with 11 points.
Mulkey said the key was beating Tech’s press, which resulted in easy shots for Griner and Williams.
“Brittney got 35 points because of (her teammates’) ability to handle the pressure and score at the end of the press,” Mulkey said.
Tech committed seven turnovers and missed six shots while going scoreless for 6 1/2 minutes during Baylor’s game-breaking surge. The Yellow Jackets would never recover.
The only thing the Lady Bears had to worry about after that was when Mulkey would order them back to practice to start working on Tennessee.
And to make sure they stayed out of the way when Griner dunked.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)