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.
That all, essentially, shuts down an opposing team's ability to score inside. The most glaring example? In a 67-39 loss to Baylor earlier this season, Iowa State was outscored 50-0 in the paint.
“Basketball's a difficult game if you don't ever get any easy shots,” Littell said.
Last season, a New York Times story detailed some of the out-of-the-box tactics teams have used to try to simulate Griner's height and length in practice. St. John's used a broom. Tennessee used a shot dummy with large hands. McNeese State used a kayak paddle.
Louisville coach Jeff Walz said he hasn't resorted to any of those unorthodox measures. And it may not matter, anyway. Tennessee forward Cierra Burdick said it's impossible to mimic Griner's complete skill set.
“You can't prepare,” Burdick said. “You can try, but at the end of the day, she's Brittney Griner.”
Then there's the psychological effect of playing Griner.
She is, by nature, an intimidating force. That can cause players to hesitate before taking a jumper and leave the shot short. Or momentarily pause before making a move in the paint. Or lose track of their assignment on a play because they're looking for her out of the corner of their eye.
Or it can completely shake a player's confidence. In the semifinals of the Big 12 Tournament, for instance, Kendra Suttles, who had arguably been OSU's best player down the stretch of the regular season, had four shots blocked by Griner in the first 11 minutes of the game. She sat on the bench for virtually the rest of the half.
More than anything, Lawson said Griner's presence forces players to rethink all their natural instincts. For guards, lanes to the basket no longer exist.
“That's been a layup your entire life,” she said. “And now all of a sudden, against Baylor, it's not. It's a blocked shot, because she comes from places that no other player can come from and still get to balls.
“And so how do you turn off instincts for one particular game, and then turn it back on?”
Littell's had troubles with what he calls the “residual effect” of Griner, or his team still acting like she's in the paint in the Cowgirls' game after facing Baylor.
“You have to convince them, ‘Hey, you're not playing Griner anymore. Go ahead and go up with it.'”
So which teams are able to beat Baylor and its seemingly unstoppable star?
Since the 2011-12 season began, Stanford has been the only team that has emerged victorious against the Bears. And in that game, Baylor point guard Odyssey Sims — an elite player in her own right — left early with an injury.
Louisville will be the next to try Sunday, with Walz saying his team will work to keep up with Baylor's scoring rather than attempt to slow down Griner. Should the Cardinals fail, either OU or Tennessee will be waiting for their next shot.
Lawson thinks Connecticut ultimately has the best chance to knock off Baylor because of its defense, size and 3-point shooting.
But that doesn't mean the Huskies — or any team, for that matter — can stop Brittney Griner.
“Can you beat Baylor with her on the team? Yes you can,” she said. “Is it exceedingly difficult to do? Yes it is.
“The way you have to approach it is you're trying beat their team. You're not trying to stop her or you're not trying to take her out of the game. You're not going to take her out of the game.”