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How do you prepare to face Baylor's Brittney Griner?

The Lady Bears' star center is a transformative force in the paint. So how do teams get ready for her? And can you stop her?
By Gina Mizell Published: March 30, 2013

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.”


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