John Werner: Unsung Lady Bears answer call on big stage

Stanford did its best to neutralize Brittney Griner, but the Lady Bears still pulled out the victory.

DENVER — When you’re the national player of the year, you’re a major target.

When you’re 6-foot-8 and have been throwing down dunks in the NCAA tournament, you’re a Rocky Mountain-sized target.

Stanford wasn’t going to let Baylor phenom Brittney Griner dominate like she’s done against so many teams this year.

So the Cardinal players roughed her up, hit her from behind and in front. They rotated  big, physical players against her and tried to wear her down.

They repeatedly took the ball into the paint against Griner to start the second half to get her into foul trouble. They were basically picking on her, as much as a 6-8 player can be picked on.

The Stanford players dared somebody else to beat them.

And Terran Condrey and Jordan Madden did.

When the Lady Bears needed offensive production the most, the two guards delivered in a big way. Condrey and Madden were each averaging barely more than four points per game, but they made the most of their opportunity on the big stage in the national semifinals.

Because of their contributions, Baylor overcame Stanford, 59-47, Sunday night and kept its dream of a 40-0 season and a national championship alive.

The Lady Bears will try to finish the job against Notre Dame on Tuesday night at the Pepsi Center. Sitting at the podium wearing sunglasses to protect her eyes due to her recent diagnosis of Bell’s palsy, Baylor coach Kim Mulkey

couldn’t have been prouder of her team.

“We’re 39-0 and going to play for the national championship,” Mulkey said. “They deserve it. They’ve taken everybody’s best shot. They’ve got a gimpy coach who can barely hear, see or talk. But we’ll go out Tuesday and give it our best shot again.”

Condrey matches Griner

Scoring in double figures for just the third time this year, Condrey finished with 13 points, the same as Griner.

“I can’t even put it into words,” said Griner when asked about Condrey’s performance. “She’s not real loud, but you definitely hear her on the court.” 

Madden contributed nine points, but most importantly she and Condrey came through at just the right time.

With the Lady Bears leading 32-31 early in the second half, the game was still hanging by a thread when Condrey nailed an outside shot. Odyssey Sims then whipped a pass to Madden, who drove for a basket, drew a foul and hit a free throw.

Stanford star Nneka Ogwumike was called for a foul on a hard screen that knocked down Sims. When Madden drove for another basket, the Lady Bears opened up an eight-point lead.

With Griner’s turnaround jumper against a Stanford double team, the Lady Bears stretched their lead to 42-32 with 12 minutes remaining.

From that point, the Lady Bears were basically in control, but Condrey kept contributing as she hit a free throw and drove for a layup to push the lead to 46-34 with 8:21 remaining.

“Brittney Griner is the face of women’s basketball and deserves to be,” Mulkey said. “But this team is bigger than Brittney and she will tell you that. Brittney Griner double- and triple-teamed allows other players on her team to have opportunities.”

It was hardly an offensive masterpiece for Baylor which shot just 36.5 percent. But the Lady Bears played tremendous defense by limiting the Cardinal to 33.3 percent and winning the boards, 42-34.

Stanford makes it tough

The Lady Bears have won by nearly 27 points per game this season, and no one had come within single digits of them since Texas A&M in College Station on Feb. 27.

But nothing came easy against the Cardinal.

Stanford sagged into the paint against Griner and used multiple players to defend her. Though Chiney Ogwumike did most of the work against Griner, Stanford rotated big players like Nneka Ogwumike, Sarah Boothe and Joslyn Tinkle to help out.

The Cardinal seemed perfectly willing to let Baylor take as many outside shots as it wanted as long as Griner didn’t get too many touches.

Griner hit just three of nine field goals and seven of nine free throws.

“Most teams double-team Griner, so they leave most people open,” Condrey said. “We had to be ready to knock down shots in the game.”

Condrey spoke those words softly as she usually does. But she made a very big noise Sunday night to lift her team into the national championship game.

 

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