Toni Young caught the ball at the high post and drove hard to the basket, showing more explosion in her first step than Oklahoma State coach Jim Littell had ever seen from his super-athlete.
Yet Brittney Griner still won the battle. Seemingly out of nowhere, she closed on defense as Young elevated for the layup and swatted the ball away.
All Young could do was chuckle.
“There are probably a lot of guys in the men's game that wouldn't block that shot,” Littell said.
Stories like that have piled up since Griner graduated from a high school YouTube dunking sensation to an immediate college basketball superstar. The 6-8 center from Baylor, which will continue its quest to repeat as national champions in a Sweet 16 contest against Louisville on Sunday inside Chesapeake Energy Arena, is the most dominant women's basketball player in the country today and perhaps ever, a transformative figure who has been compared to the former Lew Alcindor during his collegiate days at UCLA.
For four seasons, opposing coaches and players have tried to prepare and execute a plan to stop — or at least slow down — Griner's combination of massive size and length, powerful post presence and refined skill.
It's a challenge that can aggravate teams physically and rattle them mentally. And the end result is rarely encouraging.
“She is dominating her competition more than any other athlete is dominating their competition,” said Kara Lawson, the Connecticut Sun's point guard and one of ESPN's most prominent women's basketball analysts. “That's any sport, any gender.
“The gap between her and the field is larger than the gap between LeBron (James) and his field and Tiger (Woods) and his field and whoever you want to pick in whatever sport.”
Height: 6-foot-8. Wingspan: 88 inches (7-foot-4). Standing one-arm reach: 9-foot-2.
Those measureables make Griner a severe physical mismatch for nearly every opposing player.
Then add her soft shooting touch — not for a center, but for any player. And her intelligence to read the floor and dish to an open teammate. And her ability to stay out of foul trouble even when opponents try to directly attack her offensively.
That all adds up to this eye-popping stat line: 24.1 points, 9.4 rebounds, 4.2 blocks and 2.5 assists per game.
“She just beats you every way,” Littell said.
Throughout the years, teams have tried to throw every conceivable defense at Griner. Play her straight up in man-to-man, and she'll drop 50 points like she did on Kansas State. Double- or triple-team her in the paint, and she'll find supporting cast members like Destiny Williams and Jordan Madden for the open outside shot.
“None of it works,” Lawson said. “And that's why those coaches keep changing. … There are times, of course, in a game, where it might work for a play, or it might work until she figures it out.
“There's nothing that a team can do that she hasn't already experienced at some point in her career.”
And defensively, Griner's presence impacts everyone on the floor. Posts will kick the ball back out to the perimeter, despite having low position on the block. Guards completely lose their ability to penetrate in the lane. Even outside shooters are affected.
Take this example from Oklahoma guard Morgan Hook. She recalled teammate Whitney Hand once launching what was a wide open 3-pointer, until Griner surged from the paint to the arc in one step.
“Whitney didn't even think (Griner) would be able to contest it, and she blocked it,” Hook said. “I think that's when I was like, ‘Wow, this girl is the real deal.' ”
In addition to Griner's blocks, Littell estimates she alters another 15 or 20 shots per game. She even allows other Lady Bears to play unconventional defense on the wing, ditching the traditional tactic of always staying between the player being guarded and the basket because Griner is lurking in the post.
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