The Free Press, Mankato, MN

NCAA Basketball

April 4, 2012

Baylor women finish off perfect season with title

DENVER — Notre Dame and Baylor used the same prod to propel themselves through the season.

Their meeting Tuesday night for the NCAA Division I women's basketball championship at the Pepsi Center was a crusade, each intent on righting past wrongs; Notre Dame's loss in last year's title game, Baylor's elimination in last season's Elite Eight.

Texas A&M, the defending national champion, left them both in a bad mood last season. So each program embraced slogans dealing with their unfinished business.

But there would be just one campaign celebrated in a mile-high shower of confetti. And the first piece should have dropped on the head of the game's tallest figure, Baylor's 6-8 center Brittney Griner.

She was the one, a presence as well as the punctuation mark, who blocked the light at the end of Notre Dame's tunnel.

Led by Griner, who scored 26 points, with 13 rebounds and five blocks, and coaxed on by an energized coach, Kim Mulkey, who is now fighting Bell's Palsy, Baylor defeated Notre Dame, 80-61, to win their second national championship. Griner was named the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player.

In the process, Baylor completes the first 40-0 season in the history of the sport, men or women. That's finished business, a good year's work.

The Irish (35-4), the Big East's regular-season champion, were led by junior guard Skylar Diggins, who had 20 points. But no one in green could rebound with the Lady Bears. And that was crushing to the Irish, who are 0-3 in national championship games since 2001.

The Irish lost to Baylor by 13 points in Waco, Texas on Nov. 20, perhaps the worst game they played this season. It was performance fraught by bad shooting and a critical rebounding deficit fueled by the Baylor posts, Griner and Destiny Williams, who combined for 47 points (32 from Griner), 27 rebounds and five of Griner's 201 regular-season blocks.

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