UConn couldn’t stop Baylor’s Brittney Griner. (AP Photo)
She is a living legend, a beast out of a parable whose unique physique and talent is unprecedented in women’s basketball.
If you’ve never heard of Brittney Yvette Griner, where have you been? Like Michael Jeffrey Jordan or Larry Joe Bird, Griner deserves full name treatment because her name is changing the course of basketball history. She is the first of her kind, and there will never be another player quite like her.
So when she came to the XL Center in Hartford with her defending champion Baylor Lady Bears on February 18, the crowd was worked into a frenzy. You may know a little bit about Griner’s dominance. You’ve probably seen her highlights on ESPN, or marveled at the way she towers over her peers like Gulliver in the land of the Lilliputians. You probably know that she is the reigning National Player of the Year, a dead-lock for the No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft.
But until you see her play in person, it’s like that old MTV show “Diary.” You think you know, but you have no idea.
UConn did an excellent job of defending her in the first half of that game in February, double-teaming her on the catch and trapping her before she got to her spots.
Griner had just four points at halftime, and UConn led, 29-26. But like any great player, Brittney owned the game in the second half. She torched Dolson for 21 points, finishing with 25, 9 boards and 2 blocks. She also became the eighth woman in NCAA history to score 3,000 career points when she knocked down two free throws with 1:05 left.
Her Lady Bears left Hartford with a 76-70 win.
“We just weren’t good enough to beat those guys tonight,” said UConn head coach Geno Auriemma. There aren’t many players who can keep Auriemma and his Huskies from the pinnacle of the sport, but Griner is certainly one of them.
In person, she’s every bit as athletically marvelous as LeBron James or Kevin Durant.
Griner is 6-8, with the athleticism of a guard and an un-blockable shot. Her arms stretch so long that she made UConn center Stefanie Dolson (who’s 6-5) look like a child reaching for the cookie jar, trying to get a hand in her face.
Her touch is smoother than Alicia Keys, and she’s money from anywhere free-throw line extended.
In the post, Griner can shake and bake like a female Hakeem. She glides across the court like an electric football player, cruising to her spot without any resistance. It’s like a video game, where the physics are fuzzy but her position on the floor is predetermined.
Her game isn’t without flaws. She can be awkward with the ball. She’s so thin and wiry that she’s often pushed around. And perhaps most importantly, Griner’s frame isn’t built for maneuverability. It’s hard for her to run up and down the floor; she can’t easily break stride or to shift into high gear.
But obsessing over Griner’s flaws is like thinking about a pimple on Kate Upton. If UConn can’t stop her, no one can.
That February night in Hartford, the best in women’s basketball was on display, right before our very eyes.
The Wilt Chamberlain of the women’s game is living, breathing and playing at her zenith right now.
And it couldn’t be more fun to watch.