Player, defender of the year
Baylor’s Brittney Griner
Even with great players — or maybe especially with great players — people like to nit-pick the flaws and weaknesses of one’s game.
The critics can examine Baylor’s Brittney Griner all they want. They’re not going to find a whole lot of nits to pick.
No player in the country dominates a game like the Lady Bears’ junior All-American post. Offense, defense, it doesn’t matter — she alters the way the other team even approaches the game.
Used to, a couple of seasons back, some basketball analysts criticized Griner’s offensive repertoire, saying she knew only a handful of post moves.
They certainly can’t say that anymore. Not when Griner pulls out the left-handed scoop, the running hook, the turnaround jumper and the baseline spin and swooping reverse layup.
In one half. Against Iowa State, in the regular-season finale.
“Guard her one-on-one, and you’ll see how many post moves she has,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. “We’ve seen the left-handed hook, the right-handed hook, the up-and-under, we’ve seen the turnaround-and-shoot-it-in-your-face. Truthfully, when you’re coaching post players, you want them to have two great moves. Brittney has about five.”
Of course, even her critics can’t deny that Griner has grown into the best player in women’s college basketball.
“Maybe the best center in the world,” is what ESPN analyst Kara Lawson called her.
Nice praise, to be sure, but Griner tries to turn a deaf ear to both the compliments and the complaints. Even in games where she proves unstoppable — like against the Cyclones, when she dropped in 41 points — Griner constantly thinks she could have, should have done more.
“I’m never really satisfied with how I play,” Griner said. “Even in the game against Iowa State, I was watching the film and I was mad at myself for things I did, something I did wrong and I’d see it. I feel like there’s a lot of areas I can always work on.”
Now, no one is silly enough to question Griner’s defensive instincts. She is a natural-born defender, a one-woman force field around the rim, again leading the nation with 5.1 blocks a game.
Not to mention all the game plans she has altered.
“When you’ve got a 6-8 shot-blocker like Brittney in the paint,” A&M guard Sydney Carter said, “it definitely makes you think twice about attacking the basket.”
Yes, it’s hard to find many weaknesses in the total package that is Brittney Griner.
Worst of all for her opponents, whatever those weaknesses might be, they probably won’t be for long.
“You’re supposed to get better,” Mulkey said. “Brittney is on track to just keep getting better. I don’t think you’ve seen the best of Brittney yet.”
Sixth woman of the year
Baylor’s Brooklyn Pope
What do you get when you combine the body of a power forward, the handle of a guard and the spirit of a hip-hop poet?
The most dynamic bench player in the Big 12, that’s what.
Otherwise known as Brooklyn Pope.
Baylor coach Kim Mulkey says if her Lady Bears held a one-on-one tournament, she’d bet on Pope to win. It’s not uncommon to see Pope vault off the floor to snatch a rebound, then outrun everyone downcourt with the ball, leading the break. She loves to break off a crossover dribble to try to blow past her defender.
“Sometimes Brook thinks she’s a guard,” Odyssey Sims said. “For her, to be a 4-player, she has a lot of great moves. Even when she’s dancing around, she’s a great attacker.”
Pope brought instant energy whenever she hit the court for the Lady Bears this year, averaging just under 8 points and six rebounds in 15.1 minutes a game. Perpetually active, she actually draws fouls at about the same rate as Brittney Griner, though Pope realizes she’s got a long way to go on her free-throw shooting (43 percent).
“It’s awfully frustrating,” she said. “But I just have to keep a cool head and knock (the free throws) down and then I’ll probably have more points than Brittney Griner.”
Most coaches don’t have the luxury of turning to the bench and beckoning to one McDonald’s All-American to replace another. But Baylor’s Kim Mulkey has that option in Pope, who was highly recruited out of Fort Worth Dunbar and signed with Rutgers before transferring to Baylor.
Mulkey has said the Lady Bears “don’t miss a beat” when she uses Pope to spell Griner or Destiny Williams. If anything, the coach chastised herself following a couple of Big 12 games for not playing Pope more minutes.
But in whatever playing time she gets, don’t expect Baylor’s version of the Tasmanian Devil to slow down a bit.
“I just try to play hard for the team, try to bring whatever energy I can,” Pope said. “I hope I can peak and help out the team the best way I can in time for the NCAA tournament.”
Coach of the year
Baylor’s Kim Mulkey
There are a lot of coaches who could take a seat on Baylor’s bench and win games. The Lady Bears are pretty darn talented, after all.
But would Baylor be undefeated under any other coach than Kim Mulkey? Would any other coach so brazenly embrace a national championship-or-bust mentality, or be able to push the Lady Bears to their absolute peak of performance?
Mulkey is fond of saying that a team adopts the identity of its coach. That’s true for the 2011-12 Lady Bears, who have played with a passionate intensity that’s characteristic of their relentless leader.
“There’s just a fire in us,” Brittney Griner said. “She’s got all that fire in her, and it trickles down to us. She gets riled up, and we definitely have the mentality of Coach.”
Sitting in the driver’s seat, Mulkey has pushed all the right buttons in Baylor’s perfect season. On Jan. 21, after watching several highly ranked basketball teams — including the Baylor men — stumble on their home courts, Mulkey showed up to the Ferrell Center and ripped into her team about the importance of playing hard and protecting their home court.
The result? A 76-41 landslide win over Kansas State.
In late February, the Lady Bears traveled to Texas A&M and encountered some foul trouble, with Griner picking up two quickies in the first half.
When the Aggies made their inevitable run, Mulkey considered putting Griner back in the game, but opted to keep her on the bench.
She had a bigger picture in mind.
“I was putting Griner back in and then I thought, ‘Nuh-uh, we’re going to let these kids learn something here,’” Mulkey said. “It’s kind of like baseball. You can put a pitcher in and he may be getting rocked. But at the same time, he may need to get rocked.”
Led by Mulkey, their irrepressible band leader, even when the Lady Bears got rocked, they eventually rolled.
And they hope to keep on dancing all the way to Denver.
“We have worked so hard to try to win six basketball games,” Mulkey said. “And now those six basketball games are right here before you.”
Newcomer of the year
Texas A&M’s Kelsey Bone
Even now, a year after she’s been gone, Danielle Adams still casts a massive shadow in College Station.
Fortunately for the Aggies, Kelsey Bone has shown she’s not afraid of the dark.
At the start of the season, Bone found herself in the unenviable position as the replacement for Adams, the A&M legend who was the most outstanding player of last year’s NCAA tournament.
But Bone didn’t shrink from the challenge. The 6-foot-4 post, who was the second-ranked high school player in the country as a senior behind Brittney Griner, put up 12.4 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, leading all Big 12 newcomers in both categories.
Bone was the SEC freshman of the year at South Carolina in 2009-10, but was terribly homesick for her native land of Texas and transferred to A&M after that season.
Bone joked that she had to “learn basketball all over again” upon joining the Aggies, but she’s been a quick study.
“I’m working on it and trying to get adjusted,” she said. “The good thing is, I still have next year and the year after that. It’s like a puzzle, and each piece is fitting in.”
Freshman of the year
Oklahoma State’s Liz Donohoe
In her first college game back in November, Oklahoma State’s Liz Donohoe ripped the nets for 17 points against Rice.
She wasn’t just ahead of the curve, she set the curve.
Donohoe wasted little time establishing herself as the Cowgirls’ best player. The heady 6-foot forward led both OSU and all Big 12 freshmen in scoring (12.4) and rebounding (7.1), shooting better than 30 percent from 3-point range and nearly 88 percent from the foul line.
And even on those nights when her shot wasn’t falling, Donohoe, a native of Edmond, Okla., didn’t run away and hide. In the regular-season finale against Missouri, Donohoe shot 1-of-9 and finished with two points, yet still fought her way to a game-high 15 rebounds and delivered five assists to boot.
“A sign of a great player is when you’re struggling in one area of your game, you find another way to help your team out,” OSU coach Jim Littell said. “That’s been Liz Donohoe all year.”
|P||Brittney Griner||Baylor||Jr||6-8||23.3||9.6||61.6 % field goals|
|F||Chelsea Poppens||Iowa State||Jr||6-2||14.5||10.9||1.2 steals|
|G||Whitney Hand||Oklahoma||Jr||6-1||13.0||7.0||3.9 assists|
|G||Angel Goodrich||Kansas||Jr||5-4||12.8||4.1||NCAA-best 7.5 assists|
|G||Odyssey Sims||Baylor||So||5-9||14.5||2.9||3.2 steals|
|Player of the Year: Brittney Griner, Baylor||Coach of the Year: Kim Mulkey, Baylor|
|Top defender: Brittney Griner, Baylor||Freshman of the Year: Liz Donohoe, Oklahoma St.|
|Newcomer of the Year: Kelsey Bone, Texas A&M||Sixth Woman of the Year: Brooklyn Pope, Baylor|
|F||Aishah Sutherland||Kansas||Sr||6-2||13.9||9.1||1.4 blocks|
|F||Destiny Williams||Baylor||Jr||6-1||9.9||9.2||52.8 % field goals|
|G||Tyra White||Texas A&M||Sr||6-0||13.5||5.6||1.0 steals|
|G||Chassidy Fussell||Texas||So||5-10||16.5||4.5||90.5% FTs|
|G||Brittany Chambers||Kansas State||Jr||5-8||14.3||6.2||1.1 steals|
|F||Liz Donohoe||Oklahoma St.||6-0||12.4||7.1||1.1 steals|
|F||Kaylon Williams||Oklahoma||6-3||4.2||5.0||11 Big 12 starts|
|G||Morgan Eye||Missouri||5-10||7.8||3.2||Team-high 56 treys|
|G||Sharane Campbell||Oklahoma||5-10||8.7||3.4||Team-high 103 FTs|
|G||Nikki Moody||Iowa State||5-8||9.6||3.3||4.4 assists|
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