DENVER — National championship or bust?
Sorry, Stanford, you’re not busting Baylor’s bubble.
Baylor will get its shot at a championship, thanks to a pair of unlikely heroes knocking down shots.
Dared to shoot, Terran Condrey and Jordan Madden both delivered several clutch second-half baskets in pushing the unbeaten and unbroken Lady Bears past Stanford, 59-47, in the national semifinals Sunday night before a crowd of 19,028 at the Pepsi Center.
Baylor (39-0) advances to play Notre Dame in Tuesday’s national championship game at 7:30 p.m. Central time.
As the final seconds ran down, Odyssey Sims flung the ball to the rafters, ecstatic over reaching the season’s final game.
Ecstatic, but not satisfied.
“It feels great that we’re going to play on Tuesday,” Sims said, unable to contain an ear-to-ear grin. “But, then again, we haven’t done anything yet.”
The Cardinal (35-2) most assuredly didn’t want to let Brittney Griner beat them. Not only did the Cardinal avoid challenging Griner in the paint — per coach Tara Vanderveer’s instructions — but the Stanford defenders also built a defensive wall around the Baylor All-American. Stanford sandwiched Griner with a pair of defenders, one in front and one behind, while she set up on the blocks, cutting down on her touches.
That left Madden, and sometimes Condrey, wide open.
For a while, the shots didn’t fall. But when Baylor needed them most, they delivered.
Displaying a touch as soft as her speaking voice, Condrey swished in 10 of her team high-tying 13 points in the second half. It was just the third double-figure scoring game of the season for the senior.
“I can’t even put it into words,” Griner said of Condrey’s performance. “She’s not real loud, but you definitely hear her on the court.”
“Most teams double-team Griner, so they’ll leave most people open,” Condrey said. “We had to be ready to knock down the shots.”
A little gun-shy in the first half, Madden also produced in Baylor’s second-half surge. With 13:09 left in the game, she snagged a bounce pass from Sims and hoisted a floater while drawing a foul, giving Baylor a 38-32 lead.
With a new jolt of confidence, she charged to the basket 23 seconds later and fired up a crazy running banker to push the lead to eight.
“What we did better in the second half was that we turned down the first look,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. “We’d make one pass and we’d play right into Stanford’s hands and shoot the first shot that was open. And all you’ve got to do is reverse the ball, be patient, let Griner still get touches, and you’re going to get the same shot next time around the floor. ... But our team is not just Brittney Griner.”
Despite finishing with a season low-tying three field goals, Griner still managed to tie Condrey for Baylor’s high point honors with 13. She did most of her offensive damage from the foul line late in the game, sinking seven of nine free throws.
Sims chipped in 11 points and two steals for the Lady Bears, who shot just 36.5 percent from the floor. Madden added nine points, while Destiny Williams had seven points in addition to collecting a game-high 10 rebounds.
Playing with heart and passion in her final college game, Stanford’s Nneka Ogwumike produced 22 points and nine rebounds. But she didn’t have much offensive support, as nobody else on the Cardinal hit for double figures.
Baylor harrassed Stanford into 33 percent shooting, including a paltry 2-for-17 (11.8 percent) from 3-point land.
“Having Brittney in the paint, it completely changes everyone’s game,” Ogwumike said. “I think we tried our best to really compose ourselves on offense, even though it was really difficult.”
Even though Madden rolled in a runner on Baylor’s first possession of the game, the Cardinal practically dared the junior guard to shoot throughout the first half. Using an extra defender to crowd Griner in the post and leaving Madden wide open, Stanford effectively neutralized Baylor’s offense, as the Lady Bears’ 25 points was its second-lowest first-half total of the season.
Still, Stanford couldn’t leave Baylor behind — even in those moments when Nneka Ogwumike or Toni Kokenis shook loose of their defenders and sliced to the goal for open layins.
Stanford grabbed a 23-21 lead when Bonnie Samuelson banged in a 3-pointer in front of a lunging Kimetria “Nae-Nae” Hayden with about four minutes to play in the half.
But Baylor reclaimed the edge by scoring the last four points of the half. Williams drilled an 18-footer to tie the game at 23. A minute later, Sims intercepted an errant pass, took off downcourt like a bullet, faked out Kokenis, then flipped up a lefty layup for the go-ahead score.
Then the Lady Bears wore Stanford down after the break. They took their first double-digit lead of the game when Griner popped a turnaround jumper over two defenders with 12:05 to play, then withstood every Cardinal rally attempt down the stretch.
Stanford’s comeback chances also took a hit when Chiney Ogwumike — Nneka’s younger sister and a second-team All-American standout — fouled out with 7:39 to play.
Having absorbed every punch of every contender through 39 games now, Baylor will finally get a chance to finish its business on Tuesday.
‘A gimpy coach’
“We’re 39-0 and you’re going to play for the national championship,” Mulkey said. “And they deserve to play for the national championship. They’ve taken everybody’s best shot.
“They’ve got a gimpy coach up here that can hardly hear, see or talk, yet they pull me through and pull me along. And we’ll be out there come Tuesday and give it our best shot again.”
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