Women’s basketball is better off when the nation’s No. 1 team and defending champion can suffer a surprise in the Sweet 16, an improbable upset that has so often eluded the women’s tournament. But the women’s game is also so much better for the four seasons it had Baylor’s Brittney Griner, who changed how we thought about the limits of athleticism, and grew from someone dropped in the spotlight to a person who seemed comfortable there.
Sunday’s shocking Sweet 16 exit in which she hit just four shots and scored 14 points will take a place of prominence among the moments we most vividly remember about Griner’s college career, but so will these five memories.
1. Confetti angels in Denver (April 3, 2012)
We didn’t know at the time that it would be her only chance to celebrate after the final game of the season, but the now-familiar image of Griner making confetti angels on the court after Baylor’s win against Notre Dame in the national championship game spoke volumes about her. Griner’s celebration came at the end of one of the most dominant individual seasons in the game’s history, one in which she led Baylor to a 40-0 record by averaging 23.2 points (on 60 percent shooting), 9.5 rebounds and 5.2 blocks. Only Griner could do that. And few but Griner would drop to the court to make confetti angels. She could scowl and glower after blocks and big plays, but few players devoted more time to searching out the goofy joy in life than the kayaking, go-cart driving, roll-down-a-ramp, confetti-diving one.
2. A sweet win against Tennessee (March 27, 2010)
Most of the basketball world got its first look at Griner on the court when Baylor opened her freshman season in a nationally televised game at Tennessee. We saw flashes in that moment, including four blocked shots, but it was the Lady Vols who got the win behind 25 points and 14 rebounds from Shekinna Stricklen. The teams would meet again in the Volunteer State in the Sweet 16 in Memphis, with Pat Summitt’s Lady Vols the top seed in possession of a 32-2 record. Griner left much more of an impression on that night. Behind 27 points, 10 blocks and seven rebounds from its freshman star, the fourth-seeded Lady Bears pulled away for a 77-62 victory on their way to the Final Four.
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