FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR, TOP DEFENDER:
BAYLOR POST BRITTNEY GRINER
Less than a minute into her college basketball career, Brittney Griner already made history.
Griner’s imposing presence prompted Hall of Fame Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, as staunch an advocate of man-to-man defense as you’ll find in college basketball, to do something she’d never done in more than 30 years of coaching: go to a zone.
Think this 6-foot-8 wunderkind might be kind of a unique player?
Griner delivered on the enormous promise that surrounded her, dominating on both ends of the court and emphatically introducing herself as one of the top posts in the women’s game. As such, she was an easy choice as both the Freshman of the Year and the Top Defender on the Tribune-Herald ’s annual All-Big 12 Women’s Basketball Team.
“Brittney plays above the rim. That’s a new thing in the women’s game,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. “The presence of Brittney Griner changes the way teams guard you, it changes the view of the game from the spectator’s standpoint, and it even changes the way the officials call the game.”
Griner’s most immediate impact was felt on defense, where she completely altered teams’ offensive schemes with her shot-blocking ability. With her staggering 88-inch wingspan, Griner erased shots at a record rate, setting a Big 12 single-season record with 173 blocks and surpassing double digits in blocks in five separate games.
“I love blocking shots, even better than dunking,” Griner said. “It just gets the team going, gets the crowd involved. ... Sometimes I’m surprised when they keep bringing it in (the paint), but if they keep bringing it in, I’ll keep blocking it.”
“Brittney’s presence in the paint and her shot-blocking is as important as any dunk she’ll ever have in her career,” Mulkey said.
Ah, yes. The dunks. Griner, the most prolific dunker in the history of high school girls hoops, threw down four slams as a freshman, including a nasty two-handed job against Texas State.
But, ultimately, the dunks were a minor part of her overall offensive repertoire, as she averaged 19 points per game on an impressive variety of turnaround jump shots and post moves.
“There’s so much talk about how physically impressive she is, and I’m not trying to understate that,” Kansas coach Bonnie Hendrickson said. “But for a kid that young to do two simple things: Keep it high and turn baseline. Now I know that sounds simple, and she makes it look simple. But not many young kids can do that as well as she can.
“There’s a lot of things that have nothing to do with her being 6-9 and long and lanky. She’d be really good even if she were 6-4.”
PLAYER OF THE YEAR:
NEBRASKA GUARD KELSEY GRIFFIN
Nebraska’s Kelsey Griffin led the Big 12 in double-doubles this year.
It’s a relatively remarkable achievement, considering the only category she led the league in last year was wistful glances toward the court.
Griffin, a 6-2 senior forward from Alaska, sat out the entire 2008-09 season with a severely sprained ankle. It was an agonizing time for this fire-in-the-belly competitor, not as much over the pain in her foot but because of her intense desire to play.
So when Nebraska’s first exhibition game of this season rolled around against Pittsburg (Kan.) State, Griffin treated it like it was the national championship game.
“Oh my gosh, that first game I was guitar-string tight,” Griffin said. “Even though it was an exhibition game, I was super-nervous, because I hadn’t played basically in two years. The last time I played basketball was with Danielle Tate, and she had graduated two years ago. ... I was still nervous during the game, but after that game, I was able to say, ‘I’ll be all right, I’ll be all right.’”
Griffin’s game was better than all right — it was downright righteous. She put together the best year of her career, averaging 20.4 points and 10.4 rebounds a night as the unquestioned leader of Nebraska’s first-ever undefeated basketball team.
“I felt more confident than ever,” Griffin said. “What Tammy (Jones) did, the trainer, and Rusty (Ruffcorn), my strength and conditioning coach, they did an amazing job getting me back in playing shape, and getting my body ready to play again. So I think my whole mindset, as far as basketball went and the season went, was so much better than in years previous. I feel like I’m almost better than what I was before.”
Though Nebraska has excelled as a team, showing balance and consistency, Griffin — whose nickname is “Mo,” short for Eskimo — is a one-woman momentum snatcher.
“Kelsey can dominate a game — she can take over,” Nebraska coach Connie Yori said. “She can score on the low block, off the dribble. That’s her versatility and the kind of player she is. When you can score in a variety of ways, you have the capability of taking over a game at any time.”
COACH OF THE YEAR:
NEBRASKA’S CONNIE YORI
Believe it or not, Connie Yori is anything but an overnight sensation.
Sure, Nebraska’s historic season may have seemed to come out of nowhere, given that the Huskers were a 15-16 WNIT team a year ago. This year, Nebraska put together the first undefeated regular season in Big 12 history — women’s or men’s — and made the highest jump in win-loss record of any team in the country.
But Yori, who’s in her eighth season at Nebraska after 10 at nearby Creighton, could envision the breakthrough coming.
“I don’t feel like our program has turned around as quickly as people might think,” Yori said. “Two years ago, we were a pretty good basketball team, and I think we finished 25 in the RPI that year. Everybody keeps looking back at last year, but we have built this program in the right manner — slowly, little by little.”
Indeed, the 2007-08 Huskers won 21 games before falling to Maryland in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Then that progress was stunted last year when the Huskers were decimated by injuries, including a season-ending ankle sprain to star forward Kelsey Griffin.
As soon as the season ended, Yori forgot about it, and started pointing her team toward this year.
“Coach Yori sat us down in the locker room after our season last year, and we all weren’t satisfied,” Griffin said. “She challenged us. She said, ‘If you guys want to be good — and we can be great — you guys need to put into a tough offseason. Here’s a list of shooting tests we’re going to be doing, here’s a list of conditioning things we’re going to be doing when we come back, before practice starts. Now it’s up to you guys to get in the gym and take care of business if you want to.’ ... Her making the challenge was definitely the catalyst for what we’ve been able to accomplish.”
Of course, there’s a difference between knowing you’ll have a good team and going undefeated. And Yori is smart enough to enjoy just how unique a run the Huskers have made.
“No would would have expected us to be 30-0, nor did I,” said Yori, following Nebraska’s 63-46 win over Kansas State in the Big 12 tournament Friday. “Obviously, what we’ve done, we’ve found a variety of ways to win games. You don’t get to 30-0 by winning just with offense or just with defense or just with rebounding.
“This is a rarity. I may coach for another 30 years and not have this happen. I’ve been telling everybody that about every 50 years, you can have one of these seasons.”
SIXTH WOMAN OF THE YEAR:
COLORADO GUARD BIANCA SMITH
Bianca Smith’s absence at the start of Colorado’s games only delayed the inevitable — she was going to score her points.
Of the 28 players in the Big 12 who averaged double figures in scoring, only Smith was a reserve, coming off the bench in 24 of the Buffs’ 29 regular-season games. The 5-9 senior guard averaged 13.2 points per game, and displayed one of the sweetest shooting strokes in the league, leading the conference in 3-pointers (81) and ranking second in free throw accuracy at 88.7 percent.
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR:
TEXAS A&M POST DANIELLE ADAMS
A year ago, Danielle Adams was recognized as the top junior college player in the country. Now, moving up a level, she’s still a pretty big deal.
Adams, who transferred to A&M from Jefferson (Mo.) College, established herself as one of the more versatile posts in the Big 12 in her first year in the league.
She led the Aggies in scoring (15.6), rebounding (5.6) and blocks (1.5), and her 3-point shooting ability provided the “X-factor” in A&M’s offense, according to coach Gary Blair.
TRIBUNE-HERALD 2010 ALL-BIG 12 WOMEN’S BASKETBALL TEAM
|P||Brittney Griner||Baylor||Fr||6-8||19.0||8.7||6.0 blocks|
|F||Kelsey Griffin||Nebraska||Sr||6-2||20.4||10.4||17 dbl-dbl|
|G||Alison Lacey||Iowa State||Sr||6-0||16.5||5.1||6.3 assists|
|G||Andrea Riley||Oklahoma St.||Sr||5-5||25.5||3.3||6.7 assists|
|G||Danielle Robinson||Oklahoma||Jr||5-9||16.5||3.1||87.1 FT%|
|Player of the year: Kesley Griffin, Nebraska|
|Coach of the year: Connie Yori, Nebraska|
|Freshman of the year: Brittney Griner, Baylor|
|Newcomer of the year: Danielle Adams, Texas A&M|
|Defensive player of the year: Brittney Griner, Baylor|
|Best sixth woman: Bianca Smith, Colorado|
|P||Danielle Adams||Texas A&M||Jr||6-1||15.6||5.6||1.5 blocks|
|F||Cory Montgomery||Nebraska||Sr||6-2||13.0||5.0||41% 3-pts|
|F||Amanda Thompson||Oklahoma||Sr||6-1||12.8||10.1||106 o-rbs|
|G||Brittainey Raven||Texas||Sr||6-0||14.9||4.8||1.5 steals|
|G||Yvonne Turner||Nebraska||Sr||5-8||12.2||3.6||1.9 steals|
|P||Brittney Griner||Baylor||6-8||19.0||8.7||3 tpl-dbls|
|P||Cokie Reed||Texas||6-4||8.1||4.7||1.2 blocks|
|F||Carolyn Davis||Kansas||6-3||9.1||5.1||68.9 FG%|
|G||Shanay Washington||Baylor||6-1||7.9||3.4||1.7 assists|
|G||Brittany Chambers||Kansas State||5-8||12.4||5.6||62 treys|