WACO (AP) – Brittney Griner caught the pass going toward the basket, took one more step without a dribble and finished with a one-handed slam dunk.
As impressive as that play was, it was only the first of three dunks for Griner in her final home game for Baylor.
In a farewell to remember for Griner and four other Lady Bears seniors, before a partisan crowd that included former President George W. Bush, the 6-foot-8 senior star also had 33 points and a career-high 22 rebounds. The defending national champions beat Florida State 85-47 Tuesday night to advance to the NCAA round of 16 for the fourth year in a row.
“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.”
After the first dunk, with about 4 minutes left in the first half for a 43-18 lead in a game that was quickly lopsided, Griner ran down the court with her mouth open while bobbing her head back and forth, and clearing enjoying the moment.
The former president may wish he had stayed in his seats behind the Baylor bench a little longer. Griner wasn’t finished after that highlight play, dunking twice in a 79-second span before coming out of the game for good after Bush had already left.
Freshman guard Niya Johnson had her second assist of a Griner dunk with 7:46 left. Then with 6:27 left, moments after an assist of her own, Griner grabbed the rebound of a missed 3-pointer between several defenders and went back up with a reverse slam.
Griner, the first woman ever with three dunks in a game, came out during a timeout less than a half-minute later.
When Griner got to the bench, she wrapped her arms around coach Kim Mulkey and the two shared an extended hug. Griner even picked her coach up off the ground.
“You just hope she doesn’t squeeze the air out of you so you don’t pass out,” Mulkey said. “Brittney just has a personality about her where she just enjoys life. She’s a hugger. She’s a people pleaser.
“You’ll never see the likes of her again. You just won’t,” she said. “Not here, I don’t think anywhere, ever will you see another Brittney Griner. You’ll see great players and you’ll see All-Americans, but I’m not sure we’ll ever see it in my lifetime.”
Mulkey fought back tears after they broke their embrace as the crowd of 9,652 continued to give Griner a loud and lengthy ovation.
Griner is the NCAA career blocks leader, the Big 12’s top scorer and her 18 dunks are three more than the combined total of the other six women who have dunked in college.
The Lady Bears (34-1) won their nation’s-best 57th home game in a row. They play Louisville (26-8) on Sunday night in Oklahoma City.
When the game was over, Griner thrust both arms into the air. She took a couple of laps around the arena floor, then jumped onto the back of Shanay Washington for a piggy-back ride before 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 point guard Odyssey Sims arrived and when transfers Destiny Williams and Brooklyn Pope, the other seniors, started playing.
Pope had 12 points against Florida State, while Sims had 11 and Hayden 10.
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 squad 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.
Baylor needed less than 3 1/2 minutes to score the game’s first 11 points, and led 51-20 by halftime.
As for Semrau’s impression of Griner: “She is better in person. You’ve got to credit her development and growth.”
While hard to imagine, Griner could have had more dunks.
Griner looked like she was going for another slam when she was fouled by feisty 5-foot-2 guard Yashira Delgado before getting off a shot. Right after that, the Lady Bears had three layups in a 37-second span.
There was also a pass from Pope that sailed over Griner’s head when she was headed alone toward the basket with just over 11 minutes left in the game.
“Well, she could have had four (dunks), but I was stronger than I thought and I overthrew it,” Pope said. “BG knew I wanted to pass it, but by the time I looked down and dribbled and looked up and threw it, she was further down than I thought.”
The fans let out a huge collective moan as the ball went out of bounds.
They were cheering wildly only a few minutes later with a double dose of dunks.
(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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