Brittney Griner is really good at basketball.
That might be an understatement, to say the least, as the Kansas State women’s basketball team welcomes top-ranked Baylor to town on Saturday and faces the unenviable task of trying to slow Griner down.
Doing exactly that is easier said than done, however, as few have ever done it and many more have gone down in a puff of smoke trying.
The Wildcats are 0-4 against the Griner-led Bears — including a 76-41 loss on Jan. 21 in Waco — and have dropped 11 straight in the series overall dating back to 2004. K-State isn’t alone, as nobody else has been able to dent Baylor’s armor this season with the Bears surging to a 22-0 overall record and Big 12-best 9-0 mark.
K-State (15-6, 6-3) would like nothing more than to be the first to beat Baylor on Saturday, as soon as the Wildcats’ coaching staff figures out a way to actually defend the 6-foot-8 superstar in the middle.
Griner enters Saturday’s 7 p.m. game at Bramlage — where a near-sellout is expected — averaging 22 points and almost 10 rebounds a game this season. The reigning Big 12 Player of the Year is also averaging an NCAA-best 5.3 blocks a game as well.
When it comes to defending Griner, you name the defense, and K-State coach Deb Patterson has seen it tried — with very little success, if at all.
“Oh, I swear… triple-team, double-team, you’ve seen some go zone and try to junk it up, you’ve seen teams try to go straight-up man, you’ve seen teams try to take away one shoulder and force her to the other shoulder, you’ve seen teams be super physical with her, you’ve seen teams go undersized on her,” she said Thursday.
“Honestly, the only thing I’ve seen that has been moderately successful is what Stanford brought to the floor one time and Connecticut — that is to match her with great size - 6-4, 6-5, double-team her. Not 6-2. Not 6-3.”
And if you don’t have a 6-5 post on the roster, as is the case for the Wildcats who don’t go bigger than 6-2 with Jalana Childs and Branshea Brown?
“If you don’t have that, you can’t do that and you just try to play anyway,” Patterson said.
Really, the kind of player Griner has been and continues to be is one that isn’t seen in the women’s game very often. Few have had the impact on the game like Griner has.
Sure, there are good players, even great players every year. But Griner is different. She’s a one-of-a-kind talent — much to do with her size — that Patterson likens to Ann Donovan, Diana Taurasi and Lisa Leslie, three players who changed the women’s game at one time or another.
“I look at those players, in particular, and say they’re extremely unique in terms of a prototype that was unique to the women’s game, that we really hadn’t seen before,” Patterson said.
“And Griner is unique unto herself. She’s 6-8, but you’ve never really seen a female that could drop-step dunk in the women’s game before. Other players have been tremendous and great, but they’ve tended to fit more of a traditional mold than those players.”
It’s because Griner is so rare that finding someone like her via recruiting, as a countermeasure, is also difficult — simply because they don’t exist.
“I don’t think in the women’s game you can do that because there aren’t just enough bigs, and if there is one, everybody is fighting for it, and I can tell you the five programs that always get them,” Patterson said. “And the leftovers, I can tell you where the other five will go. And then I can tell you the next set of leftovers.
“There’s not a mass — you’re not going to find Jordan (Henriquez) or (Adrian) Diaz in the women’s game. If you find them, they’re going to be playing already in a program that is top-level. That’s just how it is. The other ones can walk and chew gum, but you’re not going to count on them to impact winning or impact your program.”
The Bears have rolled over opponents all season, especially in the Big 12. Only Texas Tech has lost by fewer than 10 points, falling 72-64. Iowa State lost by 12. But Oklahoma lost 89-58 and Texas lost 77-59.
Baylor has played the best and beaten the best to get to where it’s at right now, as the Bears also have impressive victories against No. 2 Notre Dame, No. 3 Connecticut and No. 8 Tennessee.
K-State enters Saturday’s game having won two straight with a pair of road wins at Oklahoma State last Saturday and Texas on Wednesday.
After a three-game hiccup, K-State is looking like a solid NCAA tournament team again, as its 6-3 record in the Big 12 is good enough for a three-way tie for second with Texas A&M and Oklahoma. The Wildcats also have an RPI of 10 with 13 “quality wins” and the No. 4 toughest strength of schedule in the country.
“I’m so excited, and I know the magnitude of the challenge ahead,” Patterson said. “You’ve got Baylor, OU on the road, A&M on the road, you have to go to Missouri, and then a lot of great basketball teams like KU coming in here in a couple weeks. It doesn’t end…
“At least we’ve put ourselves in position to be a factor at this point in time in getting into the postseason. And getting up today, I feel good about that. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but getting up today, I sure like where we’re sitting compared to where a lot of other folks are sitting.”
No. 1 BAYLOR (22-0, 9-0)
Yr. Ht. Ppg. Rpg.
G — Odyssey Sims So. 5-9 15.4 3.1
G — Kimetria Hayden Jr. 5-9 9.1 4.6
G — Jordan Madden Jr. 6-0 5.2 3.1
F — Destiny Williams Jr. 6-1 10.1 9.1
C — Brittney Griner Jr. 6-8 22.5 9.7
KANSAS STATE (15-6, 6-3)
Yr. Ht. Ppg. Rpg.
G — Brittany Chambers Jr. 5-8 16.1 6.4
G — Tasha Dickey Sr. 5-10 10.0 4.2
G — Mariah White Jr. 5-8 6.0 4.3
F — Jalana Childs Sr. 6-2 14.3 5.2
F — Branshea Brown Sr. 6-2 5.0 5.3