0

Griner leads Baylor past Duke in Elite 8; Stanford clips Xavier in Eite 8

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Baylor's youth nearly cost the Lady Bears a trip to Final Four, and ended up saving the day.

Phenomenal freshman Brittney Griner caught a pass, spun around and hit a short jumper with 45 seconds left to propel fourth-seeded Baylor to a 51-48 win over No. 2 seed Duke on Monday night for its second trip ever to the Final Four.

"I knew we needed that bucket so I did everything I could to get position and to have (the defender) pinned behind me and step through and go up strong," Griner said.

The 6-foot-8 Griner and her teammates hoisted Kim Mulkey onto their shoulders so the coach could cut down the net. Mulkey led the Lady Bears to their only other appearance in the national semifinals in 2005 en route to the national championship.

"I've never had players tall enough to lift me to cut the net so that's a first," Mulkey said.

Baylor's men's team lost to Duke 78-71 on Sunday in the South Regional final. It was the first time ever that there had been the same regional final matchup in both brackets since the women's tournament began during the 1981-82 season, according to STATS LLC.

Duke led the entire second half until Griner's basket and by as much as 10 points -- enough for freshman Jordan Madden to start longing for the bench.

"I really didn't want to be out there because I didn't want to make a mistake and turn the ball over or foul and let them shoot free throws," Madden said.

The Blue Devils held a 46-38 advantage with 4:59 left before a pair of free throws by Kimetria Hayden launched a 13-2 run for the Lady Bears (27-9).

Krystal Thomas spent 26 minutes guarding Griner in the paint before fouling out with 2:17 left. That cleared the way for Griner, who hit the game-winning shot over Cheek's extended arm.

"When Krystal Thomas was fouled out, that's the game. That's the story. That's it," Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said. "If you take our best 6-4 player out of the game for the last three minutes, it changes the game enormously. And they took advantage."

Hayden, also a freshman, made a pair of free throws and stole the following inbounds pass by Cheek, dishing it to Melissa Jones for a layup with 2:10 left that pulled the Lady Bears within one. Jones, who finished with 10 points, also hit a pair of free throws with 26 seconds left, forcing Duke (30-6) to scramble.

A fired-up Mulkey sat Griner for 20 seconds early in the second half because she wasn't playing aggressively enough and spent a timeouts after Hayden's two free throws yelling at Hayden and fellow freshman Shanay Washington for their lack of effort in rebounding.

"Dang if the kid doesn't come back and make the play of the game under the basket pressing," Mulkey said of Hayden's steal. "It's what you get with freshmen. You get the good and you get the bad."

Two 3-point attempts by Cheek in the last 17 seconds bounced off the rim as the Blue Devils missed their last nine shots and a chance at their first Final Four since 2006.

Griner just missed her third triple-double of the season, finishing with 15 points, 11 rebounds and nine blocks.

Both teams struggled early. Duke missed its first 10 shots from the floor, but Baylor only held a 7-1 lead 51/2 minutes into the game.

"When you have somebody in the paint with shot-blocking ability like that, it can make it difficult for you to take the shots you want to take," Cheek said.

The game was every bit the defensive battle that was expected, with Baylor shooting 27.6 percent and Duke 24.2 percent in the first half. The Lady Bears have held each of their opponents in the NCAA tournament to under 35 percent shooting.

Griner, who blocked 14 shots in the second round against Georgetown to set an NCAA tournament single-game record, has 35 through four tournament games. That broke the previous record of 30 by Duke's Alison Bales in 2006.

The Blue Devils have had plenty of experience with slow starts, trailing early in nine of their last 10 games. They slowly warmed up on offense and took a 16-15 lead on a putback layup from Bridgette Mitchell with 6:04 left before halftime.

Karima Christmas scored six straight points in the last 1:30 of the first half to give Duke a 26-21 lead at the break. Christmas finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds.

Duke shot a season-worst 23.1 percent for the game, and for once the Blue Devils weren't able to generate points through their offense with Baylor handling the pressure.

The Blue Devils entered the game ranked second in the nation with an average 13.3 steals per contest and had 23 against San Diego State in the regional semifinals but logged only six, ending their streak of 10 straight games with 10 or more thefts.

Duke has thrived off low-scoring games this season. It was the 23rd time the Blue Devils held an opponent to 60 or fewer points but only the first time they'd lost when doing so.

"We did the best we could with what we had," McCallie said. "Our kids were great. Our team fought very, very hard. They shouldn't be hard on themselves at all."

-------------

BUZZER BEATER LIFTS STANFORD PAST XAVIER IN ELITE 8:

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Jayne Appel slipped the celebratory net from her own neck and handed it over to Jeanette Pohlen where it truly belonged. There was no doubt about that.

This is Appel's team. Yet this was Pohlen's night. She's the biggest reason Appel is headed back to the Final Four for one last shot at a national championship.

Pohlen drove the length of the court for the game-winning layin as the final buzzer sounded, lifting top-seeded Stanford past third-seeded Xavier 55-53 in the Sacramento Regional final Monday night for a third straight trip to the Final Four.

Pohlen pulled out the biggest play yet to save a spectacular season when the Cardinal were a far cry from their dominant selves. Stanford had won the first three games of the tournament by a combined 98 points.

"I'm still in shock right now," she said. "It was kind of weird. Everybody was behind me. ... It was kind of crazy, just weaving in and out. The assistant coaches kept telling me 4 seconds is a long time. It did feel like a long time."

These gutsy Musketeers stood up to Stanford, all right.

Xavier's Dee Dee Jernigan missed two wide-open layins in the closing 12 seconds that likely would have sent the Musketeers to San Antonio for their first Final Four.

"I was too anxious," Jernigan said. "It was like a kid in a candy store. I was too open and didn't think it was coming out."

Stanford's Kayla Pedersen inbounded the ball underneath the Xavier basket to Pohlen with 4.4 seconds left. Pohlen dribbled all the way for the winning shot. The play was briefly reviewed, then Stanford erupted in celebration once the officials ruled the basket good.

Xavier's Special Jennings collapsed to the floor, hands on her head, after the basket. Teammate April Phillips grabbed her head in disbelief at midcourt while Stanford's players jumped for joy. A few minutes later, fresh victory T-shirts and hats in hand, fifth-year senior Rosalyn Gold-Onwude held Pohlen in a long embrace while their teammates began cutting down the nets. After that, the players grabbed pompoms from their cheerleaders and pumped them in the air, Appel dancing a jig with a net around her neck.

Xavier hung with Stanford for all 40 minutes -- and the Cardinal needed every bit of grit they had to move on for at least one more.

"I don't think we can play any harder. It was a pleasure to be a part of that game," Xavier coach Kevin McGuff said.

Pedersen called it "divine intervention" after Jernigan failed to convert.

"We were very lucky. She missed two point-blank layups. But there's a lot of pressure with the clock going down," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. "I thought people were very tentative and I did not see from our team what I've seen all year."

Nnemkadi Ogwumike had 16 points and 14 rebounds and Pedersen added 18 points and 10 boards for the Cardinal (35-1), who survived an intense defensive matchup from the physical Musketeers to win their 26th straight game in a foul-filled affair at Arco Arena. They will next play in the national semifinals Sunday in San Antonio against the winner of Tuesday's matchup between Kentucky and Oklahoma.

If all goes as expected, Stanford is one game away from that highly anticipated rematch with Connecticut. The undefeated defending champion Huskies handed the Cardinal their lone loss back on Dec. 23. Stanford is the last team to beat UConn, in the 2008 NCAA semifinals in Tampa -- but lost to the Huskies in last year's semis.

A good hour after the win, Appel waited anxiously for the highlight reel of the day's best plays on the locker-room TV.

"Jeanette has to be No. 1," Appel hollered. "Come on, baby!"

Several moments later, there it was.

The players went wild. JJ Hones filmed it on her phone. Pohlen put her hands on her head, still stunned by what she did.

"Oh my God! That's my play!" she shouted.

"Jeanette, you made SportsCenter!" exclaimed assistant coach Kate Paye.

"Wow," Appel added.

All the while, Gold-Onwude cradled the trophy across the room.

The last time Pohlen remembers making a game-winner was in fourth grade.

"I never really thought that would ever happen," she said.

The Cardinal overcame a cold first half in which they shot a season-low 25 percent, went 7 for 28 and missed 10 of their 12 3-point tries. It was Stanford's worst shooting half of the season and only the third time it was held below 30 percent.

Pohlen's basket was just her second all night -- and she went 1 for 5 from 3-point range.

VanDerveer and top assistant Amy Tucker had discussed this exact late-game scenario earlier in the day -- and VanDerveer also talked it over with reserve guard Lindy La Rocque after their pregame meal.

Pohlen mentioned calling a timeout once the ball was across midcourt, but VanDerveer said, "No, take it to the basket."

"This was big for her, the biggest shot of her career at Stanford," VanDerveer said of Pohlen. "Obviously her speed is her strength. Amy diagrammed the play and it was just getting Jeanette on the move."

Amber Harris scored 20 points and April Phillips added 11 points, six rebounds and four assists for Xavier (30-4), which saw its 21-game winning streak end.

Stanford had to win it with Appel on the bench as she fouled out with 3:58 left. Xavier's 6-foot-6 Ta'Shia Phillips sat down with her fifth foul at the 5:32 mark.

"I'm so proud of my teammates," Appel said.

Later, Pohlen returned that special net to Appel.