HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Brittney Griner and top-ranked Baylor withstood their first serious challenge in two months. Coach Kim Mulkey hopes it will prepare them for the important games ahead.
"This was a great game for women's basketball," Mulkey said Monday night after her team's 76-70 victory over No. 3 Connecticut. "It's not going to be a game that we get on the plane and celebrate we just beat UConn. It gave us a gauge of what to expect. It will help improve (UConn) and help improve my team."
After building a seven-point lead in the second half, Connecticut had no answer for Griner. Then again, few teams have during her stellar college career.
The All-America center scored 21 of her 25 points after halftime, including the 3,000th of her career, to help extend Baylor's winning streak to 23 games. She became the eighth women's player in Division I history to reach the milestone, doing it on two free throws with 1:05 left.
Despite the loss, Huskies coach Geno Auriemma thought the game was a lot more valuable to his team than a potential Big East blowout.
"Playing a game like this with a month before the NCAA tournament, I can't think of anything better to do at this point of the season," he said. "Absolutely it's going to help. There's no way it can't help you."
Baylor (25-1) went 40-0 last season en route to the school's second national championship, and its only loss this season came in Hawaii against Stanford in November. Griner and her talented teammates hadn't really been challenged since, with no opponent coming within single digits.
But when UConn built a seven-point lead in the second half, the Lady Bears were ready.
"It's always good to give yourself a gauge of what you need to work on," Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. "I told them at halftime, it's been a long time since we've had to execute on offense. We're so athletic and so good and so talented, we just go play basketball. But against good teams who play great defensively, you must execute. And we needed to do some things better in the second half."
Griner and fellow preseason All-American Odyssey Sims had a tough first half, combining to go 3 for 19 from the field. They responded after halftime, though.
"Just got more aggressive," Griner said. "Coach told me I need to be more aggressive in the paint, go to the goal, so that's what I did."
Baylor, which has already clinched the Big 12 regular-season title, led 54-53 midway through the second half before Griner took over. She scored seven points during a quick burst, and her putback made it 67-61 with 5 minutes left.
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